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GEAB 145

The monthly bulletin of LEAP (European Laboratory of Political Anticipation) - 15 May 2020

Air travel: Revolution in sight

As has been repeated several times since the outbreak of this crisis, COVID-19 will act as a multi-level accelerator. If this ends up being true in just one sector, it will be the airline industry. Directly blamed for its responsibility in the spread of the virus, perhaps this sector has been hit hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic. From the beginning of March, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated the sector’s loss of revenue for the year 2020 at $113 billion.[1] Their situation is obvious to all, to the point where the European press is questioning if there is any future for air travel. [2]

In the majority of cases, countries have supported their national companies but, whatever the nature of the interventions or the situation of the companies before the crisis, a point of no return has been reached and there will be an unprecedented collapse. This will be both practical and economic. In practical terms, the travel bans applied by many countries, combined with the precautions taken to limit the risk of contamination, have profoundly transformed the terms and conditions of air transport, as the first journalists who have had direct experience of it have seen.[3] With no vaccine in sight yet, and fears of other viruses now entrenched, these arrangements are expected to continue and, the longer they remain in place, the less a return to normal seems likely.

A mode of transport of last resort

As a result, we will be faced with a mode of transport that is even more complex, time-consuming and unpleasant than it had already become through increases in the number of travellers and terrorist risks. In practical terms, the fact that the situation created by COVID-19 may well persist implies various developments: 

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