Pandemic pushes British Airways-owner IAG to record $9 billion loss

British Airways planes parked at Terminal 5 Heathrow airport in London, Wednesday, March 18, 2020 | AP/PTI

British Airways-owner IAG plunged to a record 7.43 billion euro ($9 billion) loss last year as pandemic travel paralysis saw it burn through cash, and it warned on Friday it could not say when normal flying conditions would return.

Tighter travel restrictions brought in by countries over the last two months have threatened to ruin Europe's critical summer season and leave some airlines in need of another round of funding support, analysts warn.

IAG said uncertainty over the duration of the pandemic meant it could not give a profit forecast, illustrating the scale of the challenge for IAG's new boss Luis Gallego, who is six months into the job.

"We're calling for international common testing standards and the introduction of digital health passes to reopen our skies safely," he said.

For now, IAG continues to focus on cutting costs to reduce cash burn. It said it had total liquidity of 10.3 billion euros.

UK-focused airlines were buoyed earlier this week when Britain laid out plans for travel markets to possibly reopen from mid-May, prompting a flood of bookings, but it's unclear whether that might include IAG's long-haul routes.

"Getting people travelling again will require a clear roadmap for unwinding current restrictions when the time is right," Gallego said in a statement.

IAG's operating loss before exceptional items, its preferred measure, came in at 4.37 billion euros, slightly better than analysts' consensus forecast for a 4.45 billion loss.

Shares in IAG were up 1% at 188 pence in early trading. They have jumped 13% in the last five days, after Britain's announcement on a travel restart, but over the last 12 months have lost half their value.

For January-March, IAG said it expected to fly about 20% of 2019's capacity, down from the previous quarter's 27%.

The group, which also owns Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling, has been trying to boost its finances as the crisis drags on. Most recently, BA secured an extra 2.45 billion pounds through a UK government-backed loan and from deferring pension contributions.

Last October, IAG secured shareholder backing for a 2.74 billion euro capital hike, adding to savings made from over 13,000 planned job cuts.

Despite the hefty losses, IAG has stuck to its plan to buy Spain's Air Europa, announcing in January the price tag had halved to 500 million euros, with payment deferred for six years.

IAG's annual loss compared with Air France-KLM's annual net loss of 7.1 billion euros. That company has so far received 10.4 billion euros in loans and guarantees from France and the Netherlands and is negotiating a state-backed recapitalisation.

($1 = 0.8230 euros)


(Reporting by Sarah Young. Editing by Kate Holton and Mark Potter)

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