Air travel’s sudden collapse will reshape a trillion-dollar industry

LIKE MOST international jamborees these days the Farnborough air show wrapped up on July 24th as a virtual event. Webinars featuring grim-faced executives were not as entertaining as noisy acrobatic displays by fighter jets. But commercial aviation’s most important showcase at least marked a point when heads began to turn away from the devastation wrought by covid-19 and towards what comes next.

As airlines sell fewer tickets, owing to pandemic travel restrictions or travellers’ fear of infection, the industry that makes flying possible faces a reckoning. Aircraft-makers will make fewer passenger jets and so need fewer parts from their suppliers. Ticket-sellers will see less custom and airport operators, lower footfall. Many firms have cut output and laid off thousands of workers. The question now is how far they will fall, how quickly they can recover, and what will be the long-lasting effects.

The airline-industrial complex is vast. Last year 4.5bn passengers buckled up for take-off. Over 100,000 commercial flights a day filled the skies. These journeys supported 10m jobs directly, according to the Air Transport Action Group, a trade body: 6m at airports, including staff of shops and cafés, luggage handlers, cooks of in-flight meals and the like; 2.7m airline workers; and 1.2m people in planemaking. In 2019 they...



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