Dhaka: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that 25 million jobs in the global aviation industry could be at risk from the coronavirus travel downturn and airline finances were so fragile they could not afford to refund customers.
The industry body has held a series of weekly news conferences, issuing increasingly desperate messages about the state of airline industry and urging governments to help carriers.
In its latest warning, IATA whose members include the likes of Lufthansa and British Airways parent IAG said global air travel fell by 70 per cent at the beginning of the second quarter and its Director General Alexandre De Juniac said airlines could not afford to issue refunds. He said customers should accept vouchers.
IATA highlighted the loss of jobs and the impact on the world economy if governments let airlines collapse.
Three months of severe travel restrictions plus lower traffic over 2020 could put 25 million jobs at risk, IATA warned, adding that about a third of 2.7 million direct jobs in the airline sector had either been lost or were furloughed.
Airlines are burning through their cash reserves as they try to stay afloat, IATA said, and providing refunds for cancelled flights, as rules in many parts of the world such as EU261 in the European Union, require them to do, was not possible.
Consumer groups are angry at airlines for ignoring those rules and say hard-up passengers need the cash just as much as the airlines.
IATA said about USD 35 billion of tickets were due for refund at the end of the second quarter and vouchers or a delayed refund was all airlines could offer. IATA has approached governments to ask them not to force airlines to provide cash refunds.
But the US Transportation Department has told airlines they must refund tickets for flights that they cancel, or make a significant schedule change that passengers do not accept, following a rising number of consumer complaints and inquiries.
IATA has been asking governments for a reduction of charges and taxes to help its members, which represent 82 per cent of global air traffic, survive and for funds to help restart routes in future.
It said on April 7 that European countries had agreed to defer air traffic control charges totalling some USD 1.2 billion from February to May.