Business 27/04/2021

Airlines schedule 60% of pre-pandemic flights for summer

ALA association asks the State to allow the entry of vaccinated tourists without a PCR

3 min
A Vueling aircraft

BarcelonaThe president of the Spanish association of airlines (ALA), Javier Gándara, has started his speech this Monday with the only good news he could give. Air cargo companies - which in the last year have played a very important role in the transport of health material and now vaccines - are increasingly closer to pre-pandemic levels, with about 80% of 2019 flights. Beyond this point, however, the balance of the current situation in the aviation sector is far from enthusiastic.

The entity has presented its first forecasts for the upcoming summer season, which, according to Gándara, will be "key" for the recovery of the industry. Even so, according to ALA during 2021 the most touristic months of the year will still see a 40% drop in flights compared to two years ago. That is, companies' offer will account for 58% of what it represented in 2019, before the impact of the pandemic. For now, airlines have 787,262 routes scheduled for next summer, up 114% from a year earlier. "The uncertainty is greater than ever," the executive has qualified.

The executive, who is also the general manager in Spain of British low cost airline EasyJet, has urged to take these forecasts with "the utmost caution". The reason is that in autumn the association offered more optimistic estimates for the winter season which ultimately were not met. "If we had done this exercise in October, we were scheduled 75% of the flights of 2019," he said. Occupation ended up being much lower, 35% compared to the period before the health emergency, Gándara has lamented. In addition, these routes were made with an even lower level of occupancy: only 17% of passengers who had taken a plane during the last winter have done so this season.

Gándara has stressed that the state air traffic in Spain has not had been as bad, but has warned of a change of trend in terms of flights within Europe. "Since last November and December it has changed. In March there were practically no intra-European flights; now they are practically stagnant and at a minimum," added the president of ALA. For the executive this data is worrying, since the passengers who take European routes usually represent 60% of the total air traffic in Spain.

Open door for vaccinated tourists

For some time now, airlines have been demanding that different governments relax restrictions on mobility to allow the sector to recover. After the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said yesterday that tourists from the United States who are vaccinated may travel to the European Union, Gándara has detailed the demands of airlines because "Europe is lagging behind," he lamented. The entity has placed the recovery of aviation in the EU at around 40%, while this percentage is higher in the Chinese or American market.

ALA has urged the Spanish government to open its borders to vaccinated foreign visitors without requiring a PCR test to enter, as already announced by other tourist "competitors" such as Greece. In fact, it has called on the State to apply this measure without waiting for the implementation of the digital green certificate, the European vaccination passport that Brussels is promoting. In addition, Gandara has also suggested that the Spanish executive admit antigen tests as an alternative to PCRs because they are cheaper and have a "similar effectiveness". In his opinion, the reluctance of most travellers to get back on planes is more conditioned by restrictions (tests or quarantines on arrival at destination) than by fear of contagion.

The shake-up that the pandemic caused in aviation is also responsible for the fact that in Spain 80% of workers in the sector (more than 14,000 people) are still on furlough (ERTE). That is why Gandara has again asked that the scheme be extended at least until the end of 2021. "We will not see the recovery this summer. We hope it is the beginning and that 2022 can be the consolidation of this output," he stressed. The entity estimates that since the beginning of the pandemic more than 8,500 routes in Europe have disappeared, 2,000 of them only in the first quarter of 2021.