Covid-19 takes its toll; 1.5m job losses feared

Muhammad Albakri

The impact of Covid-19 on the Middle East’s aviation industry has deepened over recent weeks, according to new data released by the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Job losses in aviation and related industries could grow to 1.5 million, according to the report. That is more than half of the region’s 2.4 million aviation-related employment and 300,000 more than the previous estimate. 

Full-year 2020 traffic is expected to plummet by 56 per cent compared to 2019. Previous estimate was a fall of 51 per cent.

GDP supported by aviation in the region could fall by up to $85 billion. Previous estimate was $66 billion.

Muhammad Albakri, Iata’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East, said:

“Middle East economies have been brought to their knees by Covid-19. And without air connectivity being re-established, the socio-economic impact is getting worse.

Businesses which contribute substantially to the region’s GDP and provide thousands of jobs are at risk without these vital connections. For the region’s economic recovery, it is imperative that the industry restart safely as soon as possible.”

To minimise the impact on jobs and the broader Middle East economy, an accelerated recovery of air transport across the region is paramount, says Iata. This can be achieved through government action in two priority areas:

• Harmonising the restart of air transport across the region some countries in the Middle East are opening their borders to regional and international air travel but inconsistent application of biosafety measures along with unnecessary entry requirements are deterring passengers and suppressing the resumption of air travel. Harmonising the restart of aviation across the region is critical for economic recovery. Governments need to implement the common global set of air transport biosecurity measures, contained in the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s CART Take-off Guidelines.

• Continued financial and regulatory support in particular, direct financial aid such as wage subsidies and loans, an extension of the waiver to the 80-20 slot rule, and relief from taxes and charges.

"We are grateful to governments which have provided relief to aviation. However, the situation is not getting better, governments need to continue applying relief measures—financial and regulatory. A regional priority is securing support in the form of wage subsidies and loans as well as an extension of the waiver for the 80-20 use-it-or-lose-it slot rule. This is needed to provide critical relief to airlines in planning schedules amid unpredictable demand patterns. Saudi Arabia has confirmed a waiver for its slot coordinated airports and we hope the UAE, Morocco and Tunisia will do so soon. Airlines need to focus on meeting demand and not meeting slot rules that were never meant to accommodate the sharp fluctuations of such a crisis,” said Albakri.