Job losses in aviation and related industries could climb to 1.5 million in Middle East this year due to the sharp fall in passenger traffic amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the International Air Transport Association.
This is more than half of the region’s 2.4 million aviation-related employment and 300,000 more than the estimates it released earlier this year, Iata said in a statement on Thursday. Full-year traffic is expected to plunge 56 per cent year-on-year in 2020, a downward revision from earlier 51 per cent estimate.
Middle East economies have struggled amid the Covid-19 and without air connectivity "the socio-economic impact is getting worse”, Muhammad Albakri, Iata’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, said.
Businesses, which contribute substantially to the region’s economy and provide thousands of jobs, are at risk without vital air connections to the rest of the world, he added.
Iata said gross domestic product supported by the aviation industry in the region may drop by up to $85 billion (Dh312bn) in 2020. It had earlier predicted a fall of $66bn for the region.
Governments around the world are gradually easing travel restrictions as they reopen their economies. However, demand for air travel has not picked up as fast as industry experts had anticipated.
To minimise the impact on jobs and the economy, an “accelerated recovery” is required, which can be achieved through focusing on harmonising the restart of air transport across the region and continued financial and regulatory support, Iata said.
“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 is needed,” it added.
Under normal circumstances, 80-20 principle requires airlines to operate flights on at least 80 per cent of their allocated slots. Otherwise, they risk losing them to competitors in the following season or year.
“This is needed to provide critical relief to airlines in planning schedules amid unpredictable demand patterns,” said Mr Albakri.
“Saudi Arabia has confirmed a waiver for its slot coordinated airports and we hope the UAE, Morocco and Tunisia will do so soon,” said Mr Albakri, adding that airlines need to focus on meeting demand and not slot rules that were never meant to accommodate the sharp fluctuations of pandemic.