The aviation industry could recover within two years from the global economic downturn, as growth in the U.S. and Asia offsets weaker demand in Europe, the head of the International Air Transport Association said Thursday.
The industry saw revenues drop some 15 percent in 2009 amid the economic crisis, and IATA initially believed three years or more would be needed to recover, said Giovanni Bisignani, the association's chief.
"Instead, probably we are seeing this could happen in two years," he said at a news conference ahead of IATA's annual general meeting next week. "The economy is pushing again strongly, especially in areas outside Europe, and the good news is that this industry is recovering faster than expectations."
He put at $1.8 billion the total impact on airlines' revenue of the ash cloud that spewed from an Icelandic volcano this spring — forcing a shutdown of much of Europe's airspace for several days in April and causing sporadic disruption last month.
"We had a shock due to the impact of the volcano but the good news is we are moving in the right direction," Bisignani said.
While the recovery from the recession looks likely to be quicker than the one after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, he said "the difference is this time that we have two speeds."
Economic growth is forging ahead in the U.S. and Asia, but lagging in Europe, he noted.
IATA said airlines in North America and Asia made operating profits in this year's first quarter after losing money a year earlier, but their European counterparts only saw somewhat narrower operating losses.
Following the volcanic ash cloud and the Greek debt crisis, European airline share prices fell by 25 percent in May and are now off 20 percent this year — while U.S. airline shares are up 9 percent in 2010, IATA said.
Worldwide airline shares lost 15 percent in May, erasing gains so far this year, but are still 50 percent above their low point in early 2009, the group said.
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