The Covid crisis has done no permanent damage to aviation and travel, according to easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren, who rejected the idea that vaccines should go to those able to travel ahead of the vulnerable.
EasyJet reported a loss of £1.27 billion for the 12 months to September and will operate no more than 20% of capacity to the end of the year.
Announcing the results, Lundgren said: “There is no visibility beyond this quarter to say what demand will be next year because of travel restrictions. The restrictions are holding people back.”
But he insisted: “I don’t think the industry is permanently damaged. We believe it will take up to 2023 before we see a recovery to 2019 levels. Nobody knows exactly when, but we know demand will come back.
“There is an underlying need to travel. We see that when restrictions are removed.
“No one has visibility to say what demand will be next year. The pandemic is there and we all see the infection rates. Hopefully, with a vaccine and testing customers will be confident to make travel plans.”
Lundgren dismissed a suggestion that airlines would benefit if vaccines went first to younger people able to travel, saying: “This is a public health issue. It’s important a vaccine goes to the people most vulnerable. It is a medical question.”
He added: “The vaccine is good news. I wrote to the [UK] Prime Minister to offer our support in distributing and administering the vaccine.”
Lundgren argued: “The longer travel restrictions are in play the higher the increase in pent-up demand.
“When the pandemic is lifted we will be in an economic downturn. Certain things are bound to happen. We know short haul will recover quicker than long haul. Leisure travel will recover quicker than business travel.
“We know people will gravitate to companies they trust. We know people will gravitate to companies that are lower cost.”
Lundgren said: “It will take one to two years before corporate travel comes back.” But he added: “In lockdown, we see not only the uses of technology but also the limitations.”
He said: “Forward bookings for summer 2021 are ahead of last year and supported by positive news about an effective vaccine.
“We retain the ability to ramp up operations when demand returns. We know underlying demand is there and pent-up demand is increasing.”
But for now, he said: “We only focus on flying that generates a positive contribution. We were not forced to pull back [this autumn] to the extent some competitors are doing.”
Lundgren said: “We need a refined quarantine system with testing and early release.”
He said easyJet will continue to raise funds “at the appropriate time” and noted: “We are speaking to governments across our network.”
But he added: “Billions [in aid] have been poured into some airlines. I’m all for governments wanting to support aviation, but how will the funds be used?
“If they are used to take market share that will distort competition and be a huge problem. I’m mindful that the support be distributed more evenly. There were examples before the pandemic where certain governments gave support to airlines without which they would not survive.
“We would like support that does not put us at a disadvantage to our competitors. We will monitor and evaluate that.”
Lundgren insisted Brexit would have no impact on easyJet, saying: “We prepare for all scenarios with Brexit. We would like a deal. But in case of a hard Brexit you won’t see any disruption of easyJet.”