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Airlines see losses swelling to US$157b before virus clears

[BRUSSELS] Record airline losses from the coronavirus outbreak will balloon further next year as anticipated vaccination programmes take time to revive travel demand, according to the industry's main trade group.

The International Air Transport Association on Tuesday predicted carriers will lose almost US$39 billion in 2021, more than double the forecast in June. That's on top of a US$118.5 billion deficit in the current 12 months, up 40 per cent from the prior outlook after a new wave of lockdowns wiped out a resurgence in flights.

Together the losses will be five times those accumulated during the 2008-2009 recession, according to Iata, which forecasts that the industry will turn cash positive again in the fourth quarter of next year, earlier than it had suggested before recent breakthroughs with vaccine tests.

The forecast comes as airlines cling to hopes that recent moves toward testing for passengers combined with the roll-out of the first Covid-19 vaccines next year will quickly spur governments to ease or remove travel restrictions they say are to blame for holding back bookings.

"The history books will record 2020 as the industry's worst financial year, bar none," Iata chief executive officer Alexandre de Juniac said in the release, adding that loss the expected in 2021, while lower, "is nothing to celebrate" and that borders must be safely reopened with quarantines now so that people can fly again.

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Traveller numbers will likely plummet 61 per cent in 2020 to levels last seen 17 years ago, Iata predicts, while passenger revenue will tumble to US$191 billion from 2019's US$612 billion.

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