Coronavirus: billions rain on airlines


by C. Alessandro Mauceri

Among the main beneficiaries of aid to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic are certainly the flag airlines of the countries of the European Union. With national borders closed and people stuck in the house, flying becomes the top priority. This has worsened the situation of many airlines that have threatened to downsize staff or to have to cancel some routes.
Impressive aid granted immediately, without looking at any recovery or revitalization plan: ranging from € 600 million for the Austrian flag carrier to € 9 billion for the German Lufthansa! The executive vice president of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager, was the first to criticize these measures saying that such diversity of aid could generate unbalanced competition and undermine the foundations of the European single market.
The Lufthansa case is emblematic: 9 billion euros in aid to a company which, according to some estimates, is worth less than half. Similar situation for the French flag carrier Air France, for which there was talk of 7 billion euros in aid. And then KLM, the Dutch flag carrier, which has been sailing in dire straits for some time and was already in crisis before the pandemic: the government is discussing a plan between 2 and 4 billion euros. A mountain of euros also for TAP, the Portuguese flag company for which there is talk of a 1.2 billion euro loan already approved in June by the competition authority of the European Commission. But even TAP was in difficulty well before the advent of the virus crown and once again the approved financing seems to go well beyond the real needs of the company: according to the Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure Pedro Nuno Santos the company’s debt would be around to 800 million euros.
Alitalia should also receive its share: over 3 billion, to be seen if destined for the CAI or LAI, the two sides, the good and the bad, of the Alitalia medal created a few years ago and cost the taxpayers another billion euros. A huge sum that, according to a study by the Corriere della Sera on state aid to companies, places the Italian flag company in first place in Europe as “aid per passenger”: a good 141 euros per passenger, followed by Air France (133, 3 euros per passenger) and from Lufthansa (126.2 euros for “customer boarding the aircraft”).
According to estimates by IATA, the world aviation association, due to the pandemic, companies were granted aid for the stratospheric amount of $ 120 billion: 67 of government subsidies, including 5 billion of deferred taxes and 12 billion of loans as a guarantee; and then about 53 billion in guaranteed bank loans (23 billion), bonds (18), leasing (5) and other loans. IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said that “the next challenge will be to prevent companies from drowning under the weight of the debt created by the aid.”
Billions of euros granted under the aegis of occupational protection and response to the pandemic, but which could instead be yet another state aid for “very expensive corporate slums” as someone has recently defined them.
Most surprising is the comparison with aid granted in other parts of the planet: in the United States of America, the Care Act (also worth 2,000 billion dollars instead of euros) provides for airlines, a mix of loans and grants that amount to about $ 25 billion. Furthermore, not only the national flag carriers but also the smaller ones, from JetBlue to Alaska air, from Fronter to Skywest, will benefit.
For Alitalia, manager Roberto Scaramella said that “Italy has found itself financing many company crises, the coronavirus has eliminated the differences: today they are not all back to the starting point. Each government set aside unimaginable figures just three months ago to allow the sector to restart. Without air transport, the economy of people and goods does not move. ” And he added that “Alitalia has the opportunity to invest in new aircraft to reduce costs”. According to some estimates, the hundreds of billions of euros in aid granted to these large companies will not only serve to deal with the damage caused by the pandemic, but also to finance plans to modernize and relaunch the sector which for years, in Italy as in many other countries. Europeans, is in crisis.

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