Hub airports like Amsterdam Schiphol and Heathrow, and the network carriers which serve them, will gain at the expense of regional airports as travel recovers from the Covid crisis.

That is the view of KLM chief executive Pieter Elbers, who said: “Efficient hubs will be the winners.”

Speaking on a Eurocontrol webinar, Elbers said: “The recovery will be led by a lot of small flows between hub airports.

“Smaller, point-to-point airports will be the last to recover.

“A lot of cities will need to recover international trade and that means aviation. There is going to be a need for long-haul travel and the only way to have it is to have an extensive feeder network.”

Elbers argued: “With demand dropping, especially for corporate travel, the hub system and our regional network feeding that system, will strengthen again.”

He suggested airline consolidation is inevitable, pointing out: “Every crisis in the industry has led to consolidation. All airlines today are in survival mode. The phase to recovery will take a long time – a couple of years – and will not be a straight line.

“But consolidation could well take place. Air France-KLM was one of the first to consolidate in 2004.

“Europe is probably lagging 10 years behind the US in consolidation. In 10 years there will be a few large low-cost carriers, a few large big system carriers and some new regional contenders.

“But first we need some solid ground beneath our feet. We saw in August things going the right way. But in October things are going in a different direction. We need stability first – a vaccine or rapid testing.”

Elbers insisted: “People are not afraid to board an aircraft to fly. What they are afraid of is the rules changing. We need to clarify that as soon as possible.

“I’m glad the EU took a step on coordination. It’s about time after eight months of this crisis – it’s overdue. But we should speed it up. We need speedy testing before flying.”

Asked how air traffic demand could look in 2022 and 2023, he said: “It is difficult to say how December will look, leave aside 2023.

“I tend to be more optimistic about medium-haul. Long-haul markets will take longer.”