2020 will go down in the history books as the air transport industry’s most turbulent year to date, with massive fluxes in passenger volumes globally due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Runways emulating plane graveyards served as a visceral reminder of the vulnerable economics of the air transport industry.

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Emerging from government-imposed travel bans and nationwide lockdowns during the first half of the year was not enough to prompt travelers to return to the skies en masse. After showing some positive signs over the northern hemisphere summer months, global passenger traffic at the end of November 2020 slumped back down to 48 per cent year-on-year (YoY) from 2019, according to SITA data. Regaining passenger confidence has become a critical factor for airlines to weather the ongoing economic storm.

Reasons to be hopeful

No territory is left unscathed by the impact of Covid-19 and many western countries are buckling into their second wave response protocols with lockdowns reinstated in the UK, Europe, and parts of the US, much to the fatigue of struggling businesses and citizens.

Despite the bleak travel outlook for the 2020 holiday season in western countries, there are reasons to be hopeful for 2021. Fringe and emerging technologies that were sidelined during the previous decade of industry growth are now being examined with fervent scrutiny to evaluate their efficacy in solving crucial Covid-19 challenges.

For example, Health ETAs (Electronic Travel Authority), where electronic verification of a passenger’s health status is required upon entry to a country, look set to be commonplace by next year. Their usage will become standardised as new Covid-19 vaccines are made available in 2021.