Delta Air Lines, a founding partner of Los Angeles 2028, has reported a pre-tax loss of $15.6 billion

Delta Air Lines has reported an eye-watering pre-tax loss of $15.6 billion (£11.2 billion/€12.6 billion), as the international travel industry shows the scars from a pandemic-blighted year.

Atlanta-based Delta signed on as the inaugural founding partner of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics and Paralympics in early March.

Since then, it has been battling to cope with the dire impact of COVID-19 on long-distance travel.

To put the figure in some sort of Olympic context, it is more than twice the $7.65 billion (£5.5 billion/€6.2 billion) sum for which NBCUniversal bought United States broadcasting rights to the Olympic Games between 2021 and 2032, in one of the most important commercial agreements in the International Olympic Committee’s history.

Passenger revenue for the year nosedived by nearly $30 billion (£21.5 billion/€24 billion), from $42.3 billion (£30.5 billion/€34.3 billion) to $12.9 billion (£9.3 billion/€10.4 billion), while operating revenue overall plunged from $47 billion (£33.8 billion/€38.1 billion) to $17.1 billion (£12.3 billion/€13.9 billion).

Ed Bastian, chief executive, acknowledged that 2020 was "the toughest year in Delta’s history."

2020 has been the toughest year in Delta Airlines history, according to the organisation's chief executive Ed Bastian ©Getty Images
2020 has been the toughest year in Delta Airlines history, according to the organisation's chief executive Ed Bastian ©Getty Images

He was at least somewhat upbeat about the outlook, however, asserting that, "while our challenges continue in 2021, I am optimistic this will be a year of recovery and a turning point."

The company, which sponsored both Atlanta 1996 and Salt Lake City 2002, the last editions of the respective Summer and Winter Games to be staged in the United States, published a set of forecasts for the first quarter of 2021.

These projected revenue down by 60 to 65 per cent, operating expense down by 35 to 40 per cent and an average daily cash burn of between $10 million (£7.2 million/€8.1 million) and $15 million (£10.8 million/€12.1 million).

President Glen Hauenstein predicted that 2021 would see "three distinct phases."

He explained: “The early part of the year will be characterised by choppy demand recovery and a booking curve that remains compressed, followed by an inflection point, and finally a sustained demand recovery as customer confidence gains momentum, vaccinations become widespread and offices re-open."

A statistical summary indicated that Delta’s passenger load factor plummeted from 86 per cent in 2019 to 55 per cent in 2020, and from 86 per cent to 42 per cent in the final quarter.

Fuel consumption fell by 54 per cent year-on-year.