Fears for airlines if travel restrictions stretch beyond July 

Fears for airlines if travel restrictions stretch beyond July 

Head of the International Air Transport Association Willie Walsh said this is the 'most challenging crisis the airline industry has ever faced'.

Many airlines will struggle to stay in business if international travel does not resume by July, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The aviation sector has largely been curtailed globally to prevent the spread of Covid-19, though work is currently being undertaken about how best to open the industry safely.

At a meeting of the Oireachtas Transport Committee on Wednesday, Willie Walsh, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, said this is the "most challenging crisis the airline industry has ever faced".

“I think there are a lot of airlines that will struggle to stay in business given that it has extended to this period,” he said.

If this continues into the second half of this year, I would have grave concerns for quite a number of airlines. 

"I’m thinking from July, we need to see evidence of the industry moving by July. If we miss this summer period, it will be particularly grave."

Ministers meet with airlines

Mr Walsh's comments came as Transport Minister Eamon Ryan and Junior Minister Hildegarde Naughton met with the CEO of Aer Lingus, Lynne Embleton, to discuss the airline's announcement that it was completely shutting its crew base at Shannon Airport, and temporarily closing its Cork base. In what was described as "an open and frank engagement", the ministers reiterated the Government’s commitment to support the industry and reassured the airline that there would be no cliff-edge in supports. 

The ministers also met with CEO of Shannon Group, Mary Considine and CEO of Cork Airport, Niall McCarthy to brief them on the situation and reiterated their support for the airports and their important role in regional development.

Pre-pandemic levels

Mr Walsh, who is also the former chief executive of Aer Lingus, believes it will take about five years before the sector can resume to pre-pandemic levels of business.

“I think the ability for the industry to recover to the 2019 levels of capacity quickly is now impossible. I think it will take several years. I think we’re likely to get back to 2019… at the earliest by 2024, but more likely by 2026,” he said.

“We have seen a lot of aircraft retire so therefore the aircraft are not available, a lot of critical staff, unfortunately, have been made redundant.” 


On the decision by Aer Lingus to permanently close its Shannon cabin crew base, Mr Walsh said it is deeply regrettable but he does not believe it could be avoided as it is in a "deep financial crisis".

He said the transatlantic flights from Shannon are very seasonal and now the second summer in a row has been "wiped out".

 Willie Walsh said it was regrettable that Aer Lingus had decided to close its Shannon base. Picture: Eamon Ward
Willie Walsh said it was regrettable that Aer Lingus had decided to close its Shannon base. Picture: Eamon Ward

Mr Walsh said the sector is facing its most challenging period as it prepares to reopen, as it will incur additional costs associated with operation.

He described the current travel restrictions in Ireland as repressive, as one of the most stringent in the world, and said there is a need to "change and change quickly".

"This is particularly dangerous where the message being sent is we don’t want people travelling to the country," he added.

Mandatory hotel quarantine

He called for an end to mandatory hotel quarantine being used as the 'norm', adding it should only be used in extreme circumstances.

He also called for the rollout of a “robust, reliable” digital green certificate system, which would ensure passengers have the required paperwork to enter a country.

Mr Walsh also said there is reason to consider "top of the class" antigen testing, as opposed to the more costly PCR tests, and that this testing should be conducted on a risk-based approach.

It is also important for inbound tourism to reopen a travel corridor between Ireland and the US for vaccinated people, he said, adding that the current perception for American tourists is that "if you come to Ireland you will get locked up".

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