IATA’s New Chief Has His Task Cut Out

by Ajay Prakash
Airport ground staff standing in front of an aircraft

Willie Walsh has officially taken over as Director-General of IATA on April 1, 2021. Before this engagement, he served as the Chief Executive of International Airlines Group (IAG). Willie Walsh succeeds Alexandre de Juniac.

Willie Walsh and Alexandre de Juniac

Willie Walsh and Alexandre de Juniac Photo: IATA

Walsh is not new to IATA. He was on the IATA governors board from 2005 to 2018, including a one-year stint as the Chairman during 2016-17. Walsh is a pilot by profession and started his career with an Irish Airline.

Alexandre de Juniac stepped down on March 31, 2021, after serving the organization for over four and a half years, having been appointed as the Director-General of IATA on September 1, 2016. During his tenure, the industry reached a peak in terms of profits in 2017. He also oversaw the worst years in aviation history from 2019 to the present. Juniac has been instrumental in lobbying governments for the restoration of normalcy in flight operations. He has also been pushing for governments to accept the IATA Travel Pass.

Commercial Flights Tracker

Commercial Flight Tracker 2019 2021 FlightRadar24

Commercial Flight Tracker 2019 2021 FlightRadar24

It is worth observing the commercial flight tracker released by FlightRadar24. The pandemic affected global aviation around March 2020. The flight data for the years 2019 and 2020 was similar with over 110,000 daily flights. The situation did show moderate improvement in March 2021.

Passenger Traffic Analysis

The two sections of this graph show the data comparison between February 2021 vs. 2019 and February 2021 vs. 2020. The graphs show you February data for the past two years. Revenue Passenger Kilometer (RPK) and Passenger Load Factor variation are the two significant factors that indicate the aviation industry’s health.

Air Traffic Details February 2021 Graph

Air Traffic Details February 2021 Data Source IATA

There is not much improvement in 2021 over 2020 – when comparing the February data.

China Domestic Traffic Buckles The Trend

The domestic aviation industry indicators are better than the International travel indicators. Domestic traffic contributes over 50% of the total worldwide traffic. The overall average is being pushed up by China’s domestic aviation data. The data shows a 220% increase in RPK and an 18.4% increase in PLF in 2021 over 2020.

IATA Domestic Passenger Traffic February 2021

Domestic Passenger Traffic February 2021

The China data is quite intriguing. More than twice the number of passengers are traveling when compared to last February. The impact of the pandemic appears to have vanished entirely.

Willie Walsh Sets His Priorities

The March 2021 data is yet to be released by IATA, but most likely it would not be too different from February 2021. Willie Walsh’s task remains cut out. Here are some excerpts from his April 7, 2021 brief.

My priorities remain the same as Alexandre’s.

We are clearly focused on working with governments to enable the airlines to get moving again. We want to facilitate our member airlines being able to operate.

It’s important that the IATA Travel Pass is introduced and accepted because we need to be able to offer the customer a digitized option to travel. …

We want to see the industry getting back up to full speed in a safe and coordinated way.

We want to see the rest of the value chain recognize the need to work with us.

And as I said, while testing and the potential for maybe vaccination certificates could be a feature in the short term, we want to see those requirements removed as soon as the health crisis and pandemic crisis has been managed and we get through the immediate challenge; that we face.”

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