Air travel will not return to normal levels for three years as OBR warns of slowdown similar to wake of 9/11

Tony Diver
·2 min read
All parked up with nowhere to go: Passenger numbers have fallen sharply during the pandemic - 2020 Getty Images/ Sean Gallup
All parked up with nowhere to go: Passenger numbers have fallen sharply during the pandemic - 2020 Getty Images/ Sean Gallup

Air travel will not be back to normal levels for at least three years, the Government’s independent forecaster has said, as it warned the industry of a slowdown similar to the aftermath of 9/11.

The Office for Budget Responsibility said it may take until the 2024-25 financial year for air passenger traffic to reach its pre-pandemic levels - the same length of time it took passengers to have confidence in airlines after the Twin Towers attack in 2001.

“We continue to expect a gradual recovery in passenger numbers, similar in pace to that observed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, where US air passengers only exceeded pre-attack levels three years later,” the forecaster said.

The OBR’s fiscal outlook revised its expectation of traffic reaching its “new normal” to one year later than expected.

Air passenger duty, a tax on flight travel, has been hit harder than any other source of revenue to the Treasury, with the Government receiving £3.4 billion less in 2020-21 than was predicted at the beginning of the year.

Ministers have warned the public that foreign holidays may not go ahead this year.

The resumption in air travel for business and leisure heavily depends on the success of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

While no firm plans have yet been announced, it is expected that some form of vaccine “passport” or certificate will be required for foreign travel, as other countries attempt to restrict imports of the virus from holidaymakers.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has repeatedly said he looks forward to a “great British summer”, which many have interpreted to mean that only UK-based holidays will be feasible.

Any foreign holidays are banned until at least May 17 by law under the Government’s roadmap for the ending of lockdown restrictions.

Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said on Monday that there remains “great uncertainty” about when they will be allowed to resume.

“Many of the vaccination programmes in Europe, which is a place where we frequently go on holiday abroad, are running behind ours,” he said, adding that other countries will be able to decide whether to let Britons in.