The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Thursday, March 19, that the COVID-19 pandemic was a grave threat to the viability of Middle Eastern and African airlines, and that the jobs of hundreds of thousands of employees in the industry were at risk. The industry body has called on governments to support the airlines in the form of loans, loan guarantees, and tax relief. IATA reports that the financial crunch being felt by the industry is worse than it was after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the SARS epidemic in 2003, and the global financial crisis in 2008. It is estimated that one million jobs are at risk across the Middle East and Africa, mainly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria. International bookings for Africa dropped by 20 percent for March and April, with similar declines for internal flights.
Why It Matters
The aviation industry in Africa is a vital catalyst for economic growth and global reach. Tens of thousands of people use African airlines to travel to and from Europe, North America, and China, where large diaspora populations live and work. The global economic contraction caused by COVID-19 threatens to bankrupt the airline industry. Should the pandemic continue beyond two months, governments will have to either provide billions of dollars in aid packages to keep the airlines afloat, or allow them to fail as they divert funds to pandemic relief efforts. The implications of such a decision will have a critical impact on the global economy for years afterwards, and will be acutely felt on the African continent.