Former IAG boss Walsh sees return of European air travel to US by July

Slightly more optimistic than current official IATA estimates for a $48bn industry loss for 2021
Former IAG boss Walsh sees return of European air travel to US by July

Former IAG boss Willie Walsh expects signs of recovery for European aviation in the second half of the year. Mr Walsh is currently director general of industry group IATA.

Willie Walsh has said he expects the US to open for European visitors “probably during July”, but said transatlantic routes are still reopening slower than expected.

That said, the former head of Aer Lingus owner IAG said the second half of this year is looking better for European aviation, given the pace of the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.

Mr Walsh is now director-general of global airline representative group, the International Air Transport Association (IATA). 

He said he is now slightly more optimistic than current official IATA estimates for a $48bn (€40.2bn) industry loss for 2021.

IATA will propose eliminating carbon emissions on a net basis by 2050, as pressure builds to improve the climate goals of an industry that is come under increasing criticism for its use of fossil fuels.

The group will ask carriers to adopt the target at its annual meeting in Boston in October, Mr Walsh said.

While airlines including IAG — which also owns British Airways and Iberia — Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have all made net-zero commitments, IATA has not updated its own target since 2009.

At that time, airlines pledged to cut CO2 output 50% by mid-century, compared with 2005 levels. 

But emissions have surged since then, driven by a boom in air travel that was only cut short last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m very confident that the industry will align with the changed goals,” Mr Walsh said. 

“But we do have to go through the formal process.” 

Aviation has come under a harsher spotlight as industries such as car manufacturing make strides toward cutting emissions in line with goals set by the Paris agreement. 

Before the pandemic, so-called flight-shaming prompted movements to limit air travel and switch to trains for example.

Mr Walsh argues that while there is little that carriers can do on their own, there is a credible path if governments, oil companies, and planemakers pitch in to do their share.

“It’s unacceptable that others in the wider aviation industry just look to airlines to write the big cheque,” he said. 

“We don’t build the aircraft or produce the fuel or run the air traffic services.” 

One challenge in decarbonising aviation is the difficulty of getting planes airborne with alternative fuels.

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