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Airport personnel wear protective face masks and visors in Terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle international airport in Roissy near Paris, on May 14, 2020, as France eases lockdown measures.IAN LANGSDON/AFP/Getty Images

The novel coronavirus crisis will lead the airline industry into record annual losses of US$84-billion as 2020 goes down as the “worst year in the history of aviation,” the sector’s main global body predicted on Tuesday.

Airline passenger traffic is expected to rise 55 per cent in 2021 from its depressed level this year, while still remaining 29 per cent below its 2019 level, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in an updated forecast.

As an air travel recovery gathers pace in Asia and takes root in Europe and North America, airlines are counting the cost of many weeks of lost business, an increased debt pile and a diminished outlook for future demand.

“Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation,” IATA director-general Alexandre de Juniac said.

IATA predicted a further US$15.8-billion hit to the industry’s bottom line in 2021 – for a total of about US$100-billion in losses largely attributable to the pandemic – as recovering traffic remains well short of precrisis levels and airlines slash fares to win business.

Even in markets where COVID-19 infection rates have fallen sharply, airlines are still confronted by a patchwork of remaining travel restrictions and consumer wariness.

A British 14-day quarantine introduced for arriving passengers this week has prompted an angry response and threats of legal action from the broader travel industry, amid reports that the regime may soon be loosened in favour of “air corridors” to agreed destinations.

IATA is urging governments to refrain from quarantine measures that deter most travel, arguing that on-board safety measures including mandatory face masks are adequate.

“These measures should give governments the confidence to open borders without quarantine measures,” Mr. de Juniac said.

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