It is a very complex issue. COVID has been the worst crisis we’ve ever seen in aviation though we are obviously in a much better place than we were months ago.
I hope that the worst is behind us. We don’t know what autumn and winter will bring, because winter typically seems to come with a new variant. I hope we don’t see that but it’s too early to tell. We’ve always known that high vaccination rates will help slow down the community spread, and we have been pressing for accelerated vaccinations in Europe. Despite this, Europe remains one of the worst affected regions globally when it comes to COVID-19 impact and travel restrictions in particular.
So we have a lot of catching up to do and the current forecasts suggest it will be the end of 2024 or the start of 2025 before we get back to 2019 travel levels. And, of course, the war in Ukraine is yet another external factor impacting the road to recovery, though not to the same extent as COVID-19.
Until the Ukraine war broke out, we were very optimistic about this year’s recovery. We have seen the positive impact of the digital COVID-19 certificate system and had hoped that an expansion of that tool would continue to help us through the recovery. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that with the outbreak of the Omicron variant, too many governments had kneejerk reactions – closing borders or making it more difficult to travel instead. We now know that such measures have proven to be ineffective at reducing infection rates. In fact, the travel restrictions put in place in Europe were not effective at all. I hope that with the next variant national governments will have learnt their lessons.
There is significant pent-up demand for travel, especially people who want to reunite with friends and family. And businesses are eager to resume face-to-face meetings. It’s not true that businesspeople no longer want to travel. Yes, we know now that good broadband connections can facilitate virtual meetings – but they will never be able to replace faceto- face meetings with customers.