Paris (AFP)

Air France-KLM suffered a further heavy loss of 1.5 billion euros in the first quarter, in a "still difficult environment" for the aviation sector overwhelmed by the health crisis, announced Thursday the Franco-Dutch group.

Persistent travel restrictions resulted in a 73.4% drop in passenger numbers and 57% in revenue compared to the first quarter of 2020, and the start of the second quarter "shows no significant improvement "of the activity," said the chief financial officer, Frédéric Gagey during a telephone press conference.

He hoped for a "reboot" over the summer.

Air France-KLM was recapitalized last month with help from the French state, which doubled its stake from 14.3% to 28.6%.

The new drop in passenger traffic in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of 2020 reflects the continued border closures in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Air France-KLM, which normally operates a large long-haul network like its competitors Lufthansa and IAG (British Airways, Iberia), is very vulnerable to this.

"We cannot say that the epidemic situation at this stage, at least at the international level, has really improved, even if we see here and there the first figures which show that the vaccination campaigns are starting to produce their effects", Mr. Gagey noted.

The group, whose companies (Air France, KLM and Transavia) deployed in the first quarter 48% of their capacities (in available seat-kilometers) for the same period of 2019, i.e. before the pandemic, will increase them slightly in the second quarter , at 50%.

In the third quarter, which includes the crucial summer period, "the group forecasts an available seat-kilometer capacity of between 55% and 65% compared to 2019," Air France-KLM detailed in its press release.

Despite the progress of vaccination campaigns, in particular in the United States, Israel and Europe, "we are not yet in a situation where everyone travels freely, it will obviously still take many months before reaching a situation that could be compared to that of 2019 ", underlined Mr. Gagey.

The pandemic cost the group 7.1 billion euros in 2020.

The aid operation concluded on April 21 resulted in the conversion into quasi-equity of three billion euros of loans granted by the French State at the start of the crisis.

Air France-KLM had completed two days earlier a capital increase of just over one billion euros, including 593 million provided by the French state.

The group had seen its net debt at the end of March worsen by 1.5 billion euros compared to the end of December, to 12.5 billion, but the April operation will reduce it by four billion, added Mr. Gagey.

© 2021 AFP