A new "rapid" pre-flight testing regime could allow Lufthansa to resume transatlantic services before the end of 2020.
Carsten Spohr, chief executive of Lufthansa Group, said the airline giant was currently focused on “testing, testing, testing” for Covid-19 as a way to resume routes, particularly those lucrative services to North America.
Spohr predicted that it would be a “difficult winter for all of us”, during an interview at the World Aviation Festival Virtual event.
But he was more “optimistic” that governments would soon start accepting rapid pre-flight antigen tests as a way to reopen key airline routes without the need for quarantine or other restrictions on travellers.
“In the month of October I think we will see governments accepting antigen tests as a procedure for testing passengers,” said Spohr. “We should also see sufficient availability of these tests in the fourth quarter.”
Spohr said these developments could see the return of “selected routes” between the group’s European hubs and key North American cities before Christmas.
“We’re working very hard to make it possible,” he said. “But we will not see a return to the fully fledged network until the second quarter of next year.”
Spohr said a breakthrough in the acceptance of rapid tests was “only weeks away” and added that the cost of each test would only be between €5 and €7.
“Without testing there will be no reopening of transatlantic in the short-term future,” he said. “I’m not saying this is easy. Testing, testing, testing is our slogan for right now.”
Spohr said Lufthansa had been talking to the US and Canadian governments about the issue over the past few months.
He added that he thought that there could be a 10-15% drop in business travel as a result of the pandemic and the increased use of virtual meeting platforms, which meant a “further shift from corporate to leisure travel”.
The group, which also includes Swiss, Eurowings, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines, has announced plans to cut its fleet by 150 aircraft to 650 due to the pandemic.
Currently two-thirds of the group’s fleet is grounded and Spohr expected half of its aircraft to remain out of service in 2021. The group’s workforce is also set to be reduced from the pre-Covid level of 135,000 employees to 100,000 staff.
Spohr added that consumer confidence to fly was being damaged by various travel restrictions that were “popping up daily”.