11 OCTOBER 2021


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Article from BTNews 11 OCTOBER 2021

COMMENT: Willie Walsh at IATA in Boston *

With entry barred to the United States to many journalists and others, the 77th International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM and Conference could only be a parody of times gone by. 

The Government of the United States let itself down by not informing its embassies of the importance of the gathering in Boston baring many would-be attendees.  According to IATA itself attendance was about 60% of the norm for both airlines and press.  Sitting in front of a TV screen back in London was not the answer.  The IATA AGM is all about networking, and in the background Airbus, ATR, Boeing and Embraer, with presence and hospitality.  Virtual gatherings are not the same.   

IATA Director General, Willie Walsh, at his first AGM in the role, was calm and consolatory making the point that airline route networks continue to be hampered by "wildly inconsistent" entry requirements from country to country and called on governments around the world to remove travel restrictions for vaccinated passengers.  

“People who are fully vaccinated [against Covid-19] should be allowed to travel without restrictions and without testing,” Walsh told a (video) press briefing.  “Travel restrictions are a complex and confusing web of rules with very little consistency among them, and there is little evidence to support ongoing border restrictions and the economic havoc they create.”

For Walsh his main enemy was not the US Government, but airports around the world, and their changes, in particularly his old adversary Heathrow which he said “goes off the chart” with a proposed 90% increase for next year. "Let me remind you of what Heathrow said just a few months ago and I quote: 'We will continue to work closely with airlines on the impact of Covid-19, listening and responding to their needs and priorities for the months and years ahead.' Are you kidding me?"

“Do they honestly expect us to believe that a 90% increase in charges is going to help the airline industry? We all want to put Covid behind us, but placing the financial burden of a crisis of apocalyptic proportions on the back of your customers, just because you can, is a commercial strategy that only a monopoly supplier could dream of.”

Airports Council International (ACI) Director-General Luis Felipe de Oliveira responded: “Claims made about the airport industry are out of context and don’t reflect the efforts made by airports to support the aviation ecosystem during the pandemic. Airports have also experienced enormous financial stress and had to make drastic cuts to keep afloat. And in many jurisdictions, airports did not receive the same level of support compared to air carriers. To keep facilities running and safe to operate cargo and humanitarian flights during the pandemic, for example, airports incurred large costs. Fundamentally, airports will always remain infrastructure-intensive businesses – this translates into a high ratio of fixed costs.”

ACI made the point that IATA’s own data states “an analysis of charges, which contain both air traffic control and airport charges, shows that these charges are only approximately 5% of airline cost items in 2020.”

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will have to sort that one out.  Airlines and airports need to work together to hold costs down.  Keeping both in business are the passengers.  The pandemic stopped people from flying.  High bottom line ticket charges will do the same.

The 78th IATA AGM and Conference takes place at Shanghai 19/20/21 June 2022, sponsored by China Southern Airlines.  Walsh says that he is getting every cooperation.

Also see Willie Walsh for the RAC London in this week's BTN.

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Of course, HAL could save £billions by abandoning the Third Runway plan