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Airlines face a long and difficult winter after a much-hoped-for rebound in the coronavirus crisis fails to materialize, sparking wild cost-cutting programs and renewed calls for government support.Airlines’ revenues fell 80% in the first six months of the year, according to industry body IATA, but they still had fixed costs to cover – crew, maintenance, fuel, airport charges, and now cargo storage. planes.

Plane on the ground at Tarmac Aerosave in Tarbes, France. Photography: Stéphane Mahé / Reuters

After rebounding slightly in July with the easing of restrictions on coronaviruses, traffic fell again in September while bookings for the winter season – which begins October 25 – are down 78% from a year earlier, promising more difficulties to come.

One of the biggest disappointments has been the absence of high-paying business class travelers who now prefer to rely on teleconferencing rather than risk catching the virus.

Repeated efforts to reassure passengers about the safety of air travel have failed to make much of a difference, while government restrictions, including quarantines of up to 14 days for returning passengers, have only made a big difference. that increase pressure on battered airlines.

“The risk of contracting Covid-19 during air travel is really very, very low,” says Dr David Powell, medical consultant for IATA.

Testing is the key to recovery

The industry as a whole is hopeful that the introduction of testing systems at airports will restore passenger confidence and reduce, if not completely eliminate, the need for damaging quarantine regimes.

There are already testing systems in place at several major airports around the world and Friday France announced that it will introduce rapid antigen-based tests by the end of the month.

“We are going to launch these tests at airports, particularly for departures to United States or Italy and for arrivals from countries on the Red List (with high infection rates) ”, French Minister of Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on CNews TV channel.

“In this way, we will no longer have people arriving on French territory without having been tested”, he added.

Hong Kong and Singapore meanwhile, have announced that they are planning a “travel bubble” to allow unrestricted flights.

Testing can help, but given the damage already done and the likelihood of more to happen, IATA continues to sound the alarm bells, asking for more government help to keep airlines afloat until there is at least a return to normal.

So far, IATA estimates that governments have provided $ 160 billion in aid, loans and tax breaks so airlines can cover current costs.

But after a disastrous summer, usually the busiest time of the year when they build up their cash reserves, airlines won’t be able to do so during the winter, IATA head Alexandre de Juniac repeatedly warned.

Earlier this month, United Airlines temporarily laid off 13,000 staff as it waits for politicians in Washington to finalize a new coronavirus aid package.

Low-cost pioneer Ryanair, which prides itself on not seeking state aid, said on Thursday it was cutting its already reduced winter program by a third.

Other airlines are thinking about completely new angles for boosting business, with companies in Asia offering “flights to nowhere” – short, circular trips for those who desperately want to get back in the air and are willing to pay for the flight. privilege.

A `` flight to nowhere '' on the China Airlines campus in Taoyuan City - including flight attendant lessons for children.

A “flight to nowhere” on the China Airlines campus in Taoyuan City – including flight attendant lessons for children. Photograph: Sam Yeh / AFP / Getty Images

Singapore Airlines even opened one of its giant A380s as a restaurant as some began selling their in-flight food to nostalgic, potential but grounded passengers.

A flight-themed restaurant at Thai Airways headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand.

A flight-themed restaurant at Thai Airways headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Sakchai Lalit / AP


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