LONDON: The global aviation body has downgraded its air traffic forecast for the Middle East with passenger numbers to reach only 30 percent of last year’s level.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had in July anticipated passengers figures to reach 45 percent of the 2019 tally.
The Middle East is expected to see 60 million travelers in 2020 compared to the 203 million in 2019, IATA said on Wednesday, reflecting the still unfolding impact of a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Passenger numbers are forecast to reach 90 million next year (45 percent of 2019 levels) with a full recovery unlikely to materialize until 2024.
The latest forecast from IATA points to a much lower level of forward bookings in the last three months of the year.
“The slower than anticipated return to the skies for travelers in the Middle East is more bad news for the region’s aviation industry,” said Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East. “A few months ago, we thought that a fall in passenger numbers to 45 percent of 2019 levels was as bad as it could get. But the second wave, combined with continuing travel restrictions and quarantines, will result in passenger numbers in the region being less than a third of what we had in 2019.”
He called for governments to adopt systematic COVID-19 testing, echoing similar demands from European airline bosses who have complained about the impact of government “unilateralism” in adopting uncoordinated travel restrictions.
Last week Emirates President Tim Clark gave a slightly more upbeat assessment of the sector during a virtual event hosted by the CAPA aviation consultancy. He predicted that global air travel demand would return more quickly and more strongly than expected.
“The pandemic is a glitch,” he said. “We’ve had many of those in the past — perhaps not as significant and severe as this one for our industry, but nevertheless it’s a glitch. We will come through it and pick up again.”
Despite the optimistic assessment, global airlines continue to announce route closures and staff layoffs.