Etihad Airways has announced its financial and operating results for 2020, recording a 76% fall in passengers carried throughout the year (4.2 million, compared to 17.5 mn in 2019) as a result of lower demand and reduced flight capacity caused by the unparalleled global downturn in commercial aviation.
As a consequence of the COVID pandemic and ensuing flight and travel restrictions, total passenger capacity was reduced by 64% in 2020 to 37.5 billion Available Seat Kilometres (ASKs), down from 104 billion in 2019, with the seat load factor declining to 52.9%, 25.8 percentage points lower compared to 2019 (2019: 78.7%).
The airline recorded $1.2 bn passenger revenues in 2020, down by 74% from $4.8 bn in 2019, due to fewer scheduled services and drastically fewer people traveling. A contributing factor to this was the total suspension of passenger services into and out of the UAE from the end of March until early June 2020 to limit the spread of COVID, in line with a UAE government mandate. More than 80% of total passengers carried in 2020 were flown during the first three months of the year, demonstrating the precipitous drop in demand as the global crisis deepened over the course of the year.
The airline’s cargo operation, on the contrary, recorded an extremely strong performance, with a 66% increase in revenue from $0.7 bn in 2019 to $1.2 bn in 2020, driven by the huge demand for medical supplies such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and pharmaceuticals, paired with limited global airfreight capacity. Cargo yield saw an improvement of 77%.
Operating costs meanwhile decreased by 39% year-on-year, from $5.4 bn in 2019 to $3.3 bn in 2020, due to a combination of reduced capacity and volume-related expenses, as well as a focus on cost containment initiatives. Overheads reduced by 25% to $0.8 bn (2019: $1.0 bn) in this timeframe, despite their fixed nature, owing to cash and liquidity management initiatives during the crisis, while the finance cost reduced by 23% through an ongoing focus on balance sheet restructuring.
Overall, this resulted in a core operating loss of $1.7 bn (2019: $0.80 bn) in 2020, with the EBITDA turning to negative $0.65 bn (2019: positive $0.45 bn).
Prior to the pandemic, Etihad was ahead of transformation targets set in 2017, having registered a 55% cumulative improvement in core results by end-of-year 2019. This momentum continued into the start of 2020, with a record first quarter (Q1) that showed a year-on-year improvement of 34%. The airline is continuing to target a complete turnaround by 2023, having accelerated its transformation plans and restructured the organization during the pandemic into a leaner and more agile business.
Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, said: “COVID shook the very foundation of the aviation industry, but thanks to our dedicated people and the support of our shareholder, Etihad stood firm and is ready to play a key role as the world returns to flying. While nobody could have predicted how 2020 would unfold, our focus on optimizing core business fundamentals over the past three years put Etihad in good stead to respond decisively to the global crisis. We have taken bold action to protect our people and our guests, develop an industry-leading health and hygiene program and restructure our business to better position us for recovery. As the world’s first airline to vaccinate all our operating pilots and cabin crew against COVID, we are ready to welcome back travelers to experience best-in-class travel with Etihad Airways.”
Highlights of 2020
Putting health and wellbeing first
- In 2020, Etihad established Etihad Wellness, an industry-leading program to ensure wellbeing at every stage of the customer journey and provide greater peace of mind when traveling.
- A key service differentiator for the airline, Etihad Wellness is championed by specially-trained Wellness Ambassadors who are available 24/7 to provide essential travel health information and care pre-flight through a webchat on etihad.com, at the airport, and onboard.
- Etihad Wellness maintains the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene at every customer touchpoint, with aircraft deep cleaning and sanitization after every flight and complimentary wellness kits for every guest, among many other measures.
- To reinforce the effectiveness of Etihad Wellness, the airline is providing global COVID insurance with every ticket, so passengers are covered when they are away from home.
- As a further commitment to safety, Etihad is the only airline in the world to require 100% of passengers to show a negative PCR test result before departure and on arrival in Abu Dhabi. This safety measure was introduced in August 2020.