In May, one of the top professional bodies for the airline industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), made a prediction that international travel was unlikely to return to pre-virus levels until 2023. However, as ‘second wave’ resurgences of the virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, including Australia, IATA has now said that its first bleak prediction had in fact been too optimistic.
“The return of global passenger traffic to pre-virus levels is now delayed by a year, to 2024,” a statement from the association has announced. “As international travel remains limited, the recovery for global passenger traffic has been slower than expected.”
While short haul and domestic flights are likely to rebound more quickly, there are still major challenges facing airlines around the world. In Australia, international borders remain sealed to non-citizens or approved residents. Even within the country, travel is limited. Victorians are currently barred from entering any other Australian state or territory, and travel from Sydney to most other major cities around the country is also currently either limited or blocked entirely. IATA had previously predicted that domestic travel in Australia would most likely return to normal by the end of 2020, but this now seemed doubtful.
International travel by air has now dropped, year on year, by 86.5 per cent – a slight improvement on the 91 percent decline in air travel recorded in May. This slight uptake in journies by air is mainly attributed to an increase of domestic travel around China. However, as the spread of the virus continues to climb in many parts of the world, most notably the US and certain European countries such as Spain, widespread travel is still a long way off, IATA has warned. "Consumer confidence is depressed... In many parts of the world, infections are still rising. All of this points to a longer recovery period and more pain for the industry and the global economy."
The future of international travel has been closely tied to the development of a vaccine and the widespread deployment of that vaccine throughout the world. While there are a number of promising candidate vaccines currently in stage three or stage four human trials, it will only be once mass-inoculation is possible that free movement around the world, as it was pre-virus, will be possible.