Image credit: ICAO

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is appealing to governments in Africa and the Middle East to provide emergency support to airlines fighting for survival in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

The move is part of a worldwide campaign, with demand for air travel collapsing because of the global pandemic. IATA, who represent 290 airlines comprising 82% of global air traffic, estimated the global industry needed upto $200 billion of emergency aid.

"Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is the top priority of governments," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. "But they must be aware that the public health emergency has now become a catastrophe for economies and for aviation."

He added that the crisis was much worse than 9/11, SARS or the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

"Millions of jobs are at stake. Airlines need urgent government action if they are to emerge from this in a fit state to help the world recover, once COVID-19 is beaten."

IATA said the region's carriers were implementing extensive cost-cutting measures to try and mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19. But it added that revenues were still plummeting because of flight restrictions.

Some 16,000 passenger Middle East flights were cancelled since the end of January. African airlines had lost US$4.4 billion in revenue as of March 11.

IATA said that regional airlines had average cash reserves of approximately two months in the region. This meant liquidity was a real prospect.

Muhammad Al Bakri, IATA Regional Vice President Africa, Middle East, acknowledged many regional governments had committed national aid. These include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Nigeria and Mauritius.

But they required more emergency support. IATA said they had proposed loans, tax reliefs and direct funding.