Alexandre de Juniac, number one of Iata
The global aviation crisis has the face of Alexandre de Juniac. Fifty-eight years old, French, former head of Air France-KLM, de Juniac has been CEO and General Manager of IATA since 1 September 2016, the main international association of airlines. A witness who will sell, on 1 April, to Willie Walsh, former head of Iag, the holding of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus. Since March a year ago, when the pandemic broke out, de Juniac has spent every day talking to governments, institutions, trade associations to help airlines survive even to the sound of billions of dollars in public aid.
“I realized that something was happening in mid-February: first with the news coming from Asia, then with the first cases in Italy, a sign that the virus was already in Europe”, says de Juniac in this exclusive interview with the Corriere della Sera. “I could not imagine the extent of the phenomenon, but I was sure difficult times would begin,” he says on a videoconference from Geneva, where the association’s headquarters are located. The “scope” lies in the war bulletins at the end of the year: in 2020 Covid-19 and restrictions in countries have made 2.7 billion passengers in air transport disappear, while companies have closed their budgets with overall losses equal to 118 , 5 billion dollars. The worst data since flying.
In your opinion, what were the mistakes of governments and airlines at the beginning of the pandemic?
“I’m not here to judge, frankly it was a complicated situation, it’s nobody’s fault. It was an absolutely unknown phenomenon. Of course, we had a history like SARS or H1N1 (swine flu, ed), but nothing compared to the extent of this we are facing ».
In hindsight what would he do?
“Perhaps I would have tried to quickly understand that the phenomenon would not be limited to China. And perhaps the World Health Organization should have declared the pandemic earlier by limiting trade with China faster or by imposing precautions ».
There are those who fear that people will not return to fly as before.
«I’m not worried at all about this aspect: the desire to travel is still there and market research tells us so. Flights for personal reasons (so-called “Vfr”, ed) will return quickly and sustainably. The unknown factor is on travel for work reasons which should return, but later, between 12 and 18 months after the resumption of personal travel ».
Do the passengers who fly these weeks do so in a different spirit than before?
“No, I wouldn’t say.”
Let’s talk about the health passport, seen by everyone as the way to get back to flying safely. There are airlines such as the Australian Qantas that would like to board only those who are vaccinated.
“It’s something we like Iata don’t recommend. What we propose is the use of tools that allow carriers and governments to provide certified information on vaccinations and also on the outcome of swabs. This is why we have created the “Travel Pass” platform. Traveling by plane is safe and the probability of getting infected at the airport and on board is very low. But it is obvious that there is a risk of carrying the virus from one part of the world to another: vaccines or, alternatively, tampons are good to stop all this ».
Are you talking to the European Commission about a health passport? “We discussed with the EU Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport and with European governments not only to promote the” Travel Pass “, but also to tell them that it is time to draw up a restart plan consistent with their testing and vaccination in order to reopen economies and borders. So far the only state that has done so is the United Kingdom ”.
You offer «Travel Pass», but there are also other similar – if not identical – platforms: isn’t there a risk that there are too many such tools?
“That’s right: if there are many different platforms and standards, it could be a problem.”
Is the risk that you will then end up with a different platform for each country?
“Yup. This is why we ask for interoperability between platforms and we suggest the adoption of a limited number of apps because in our opinion it is more efficient for governments, passengers, companies “.
What are the lessons that carriers have learned from this pandemic?
«One above all: from now on we must be better prepared to face a pandemic both in terms of processes and equipment. All in strong connection with governments, border police, airports and aircraft manufacturers ».
Are you suggesting the creation of a global crisis management center involving companies, governments, airports, scientists?
“I would say no. There are already such as the World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. However, coordination is needed, especially now that we have moved from a globalized to a fragmented world ».
“We are undoubtedly in a different phase. Before we were in a world with few barriers, but now with the coronavirus this is no longer the case. In particular, in Europe we have moved from the single Schengen area to countries that have restored national borders very quickly ».
What did you like Iata do?
“Three things, of which I am proud. The first: we convinced governments to intervene massively to help the air transport sector because it is a key element for the economy. Second: we were able to quickly establish biosecurity measures to ensure that flying is safe. The third: we have made the screening of travelers systematic and subsequently the system of vaccinations. Of course, we too, like Iata, have had to restructure: the organization is safe and solid thanks to the work of 1,400 people ».
How many redundancies have there been at Iata?
“About 400, between fixed-term and permanent contracts”.
The airports accuse the governments of having given a lot of money to the airlines and little to them.
“That’s true, but for obvious reasons: the carriers are larger than the airports and are the ones that have been damaged the most by the pandemic. In any case, I remember that as IATA we asked for help for all air transport ».
Have governments rediscovered interest in their national airlines?
«Let’s say that the European ones have never forgotten its importance. It must be said that all over the world the States have allocated 160 billion dollars of public aid to airlines: most of it is taxpayers’ money for this reason the influence of governments in companies will grow in the coming years, up to when they will not sell the shares “.
Let’s talk about Alitalia, a reality that you know very well: why are Italian airlines unable to stay afloat?
“I don’t usually comment on individual airlines and I won’t do it this time either. I can say that the Italian market is complicated because it is invaded by low cost: so there is terrible competition on short and medium flights ».
What will be the main challenges of Willie Walsh, his successor?
“It will have to continue with the measures for post-Covid recovery, it will have to continue working on the environmental sustainability of the sector and work to reopen the borders so as to restore globalization”.
With what spirit do you leave Iata?
«With the hope that things will start again, because this will happen. We just need to understand when and how ».
What will Alexandre de Juniac do now?
“I’m looking for a job otherwise I’ll find myself unemployed.”
Do you intend to apply for the leadership of the new Alitalia?
“No, no! I am unable to do that job. Let’s say it’s too difficult for me ».