The FINANCIAL — Airlines may burn through $61 billion of their cash reserves during the second quarter ending 30 June 2020, while posting a quarterly net loss of $39 billion, International Air Transport Association predicted.
This analysis is based on the impact assessment IATA released last week, under a scenario in which severe travel restrictions last for three months. In this scenario, full-year demand falls by 38% and full-year passenger revenues drop by $252 billion compared to 2019. The fall in demand would be the deepest in the second quarter, with a 71% drop.
The impact will be severe, driven by the following factors:
Revenues are expected to fall by 68%. This is less than the expected 71% fall in demand due to the continuation of cargo operations, albeit at reduced levels of activity
Variable costs are expected to drop sharply—by some 70% in the second quarter—largely in line with the reduction of an expected 65% cut in second quarter capacity. The price of jet fuel has also fallen sharply, although we estimate that fuel hedging will limit the benefit to a 31% decline.
Fixed and semi-fixed costs amount to nearly half an airline’s cost. We expect semi-fixed costs (including crew costs) to be reduced by a third. Airlines are cutting what they can, while trying to preserve their workforce and businesses for the future recovery.
These changes to revenues and costs result in an estimated net loss of $39 billion in the second quarter.
On top of unavoidable costs, airlines are faced with refunding sold but unused tickets as a result of massive cancellations resulting from government-imposed restrictions on travel. The second quarter liability for these is a colossal $35 billion. Cash burn will be severe. We estimate airlines could be burning through $61 billion of their cash balances in the second quarter.
“Airlines cannot cut costs fast enough to stay ahead of the impact of this crisis. We are looking at a devastating net loss of $39 billion in the second quarter. The impact of that on cash burn will be amplified by a $35 billion liability for potential ticket refunds. Without relief, the industry’s cash position could deteriorate by $61 billion in the second quarter,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
Several governments are responding positively to the industry’s need for relief measures. Among countries providing specific financial or regulatory aid packages to the industry are Colombia, the United States, Singapore, Australia, China, New Zealand and Norway. Most recently, Canada, Colombia, and the Netherlands have relaxed regulations to allow airlines to offer passengers travel vouchers in place of refunds.
Global passenger traffic data for February 2020 showing that demand (measured in total revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) fell 14.1% compared to February 2019. This was the steepest decline in traffic since 9.11 and reflected collapsing domestic travel in China and sharply falling international demand to/from and within the Asia-Pacific region, owing to the spreading COVID-19 virus and government-imposed travel restrictions. February capacity (available seat kilometers or ASKs) fell 8.7% as airlines scrambled to trim capacity in line with plunging traffic, and load factor fell 4.8 percentage points to 75.9%.
“Airlines were hit by a sledgehammer called COVID-19 in February. Borders were closed in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. And the impact on aviation has left airlines with little to do except cut costs and take emergency measures in an attempt to survive in these extraordinary circumstances. The 14.1% global fall in demand is severe, but for carriers in Asia-Pacific the drop was 41%. And it has only grown worse. Without a doubt this is the biggest crisis that the industry has ever faced,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
International Passenger Markets
February international passenger demand fell 10.1% compared to February 2019, the worst outcome since the 2003 SARS outbreak and a reversal from the 2.6% traffic increase recorded in January. Europe and Middle East were the only regions to see a year-over-year traffic rise. Capacity fell 5.0%, and load factor plunged 4.2 percentage points to 75.3%.
Asia-Pacific airlines’ February traffic plummeted 30.4% compared to the year-ago period, steeply reversing a 3.0% gain recorded in January. Capacity fell 16.9% and load factor collapsed to 67.9%, a 13.2-percentage point drop compared to February 2019.
European carriers’ February demand was virtually flat compared to a year ago (+0.2%), the region’s weakest performance in a decade. The slowdown was driven by routes to/from Asia, where the growth rate slowed by 25 percentage points in February, versus January. Demand in markets within Europe performed solidly despite some initial flight suspensions on the routes to/from Italy. However, March data will reflect the impact of the spread of the virus across Europe and the related disruptions to travel. February capacity rose 0.7%, and load factor slipped 0.4 percentage point to 82.0%, which was the highest among regions.
Middle Eastern airlines posted a 1.6% traffic increase in February, a slowdown from the 5.3% year-over-year growth reported in January largely owing to a slowdown on Middle East-Asia-Pacific routes. Capacity increased by 1.3%, and load factor edged up 0.2 percentage point to 72.6%.
North American carriers had a 2.8% traffic decline in February, reversing a 2.9% gain in January, as international entry restrictions hit home and volumes on Asia-North America routes plunged 30%. Capacity fell 1.5%, and load factor dropped 1.0 percentage point to 77.7%.
Latin American airlines experienced a 0.4% demand drop in February compared to the same month last year. This actually was an improvement over the 3.5% decline recorded in January. However, the spread of the virus and resulting travel restrictions will be reflected in March results. Capacity also fell 0.4% and load factor was flat compared to February 2019 at 81.3%.
African airlines’ traffic slipped 1.1% in February, versus a 5.6% traffic increase recorded in January and the weakest outcome since 2015. The decline was driven by around a 35% year-on-year traffic fall in the Africa-Asia market. Capacity rose 4.8%, however, and load factor sagged 3.9 percentage points to 65.7%, lowest among regions.