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News Article

A Roadmap for the Recovery of Aviation

By Alicia Arizpe | Thu, 05/21/2020 - 12:04

The damage that COVID-19 has brought to the aviation industry has been extensive and is also expected to be long-lasting. To help the industry recover, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International (ACI) have jointly released a roadmap that aims to speed up the industry’s recovery. The associations also warn that plans to help the industry should be implemented fast and in a coordinated fashion across all nations to avoid confusion and setbacks.

The global pandemic has claimed many victims and has put an undue burden on economies across the globe as many non-essential activities were halted. As individuals were asked to stay home, businesses such as retail and hospitality are seeing substantial drops in visitors and income and many small businesses might not recover. Another deeply affected sector has been aviation and travel, as countries closed their borders and implemented shelter-in-place policies. The International Civil Aviation Association (ICAO) warned that 1.5 billion less people would travel during 2020. The damage to the aviation industry was estimated to run up to US$314 billion as demand for flights, measured in revenue passenger kilometers (RPK) year-on-year, is expected to be negative throughout 2020.

During the year, Mexican airlines will lose US$5.3 billion and put 534,000 jobs at risk, explained Luis Noriega, President of CANAERO. He also explained that Mexican airlines have grounded about 80 percent of their fleets but must continue to pay for storage, airport fees and taxes. All Mexican airlines reported double-digit losses in traffic during April. Aeroméxico’s demand measured in RPKs fell by 93.3 percent, with international demand taking the largest hit falling by 96.3 percent, while domestic demand fell by 85.3 percent. Viva Aerobus reported a drop of 85.7 percent in RPKs and an 85.9 percent drop in total passengers. Volaris, which measures its figures in miles, reported an 81.8 percent drop in RPMs. Mexico’s largest aviation hub, Mexico City International Airport (AICM), saw a shocking drop of 92.8 percent in passengers just during April, a sharp contrast to the oversaturation the airport was facing just four months earlier.

However, the global aviation industry might just begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel as countries that heavily rely on tourism begin to open their borders. Spain, which was heavily hurt by the pandemic, began to receive international passengers in May 15 but forced all visitors, be they returning nationals or foreigners, to undergo a 14-day quarantine period. Measures of this kind, warns IATA, could further complicate the recovery of the industry by further discouraging travelers. In a survey of recent travelers, the association observed that up to 69 percent of them indicated that they would not travel if they were required to undergo a two-week quarantine period.

To develop a plan that would prioritize passenger’s safety while promoting the recovery of aviation, IATA and ACI have issued the “Safely Restarting Aviation - ACI and IATA Joint Approach.” This paper introduces a series of steps throughout the passenger’s entire journey that were developed to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in airports and aircraft. The plan calls for significant changes from airports and airlines as they would need to implement comprehensive measures that minimize transmission risks. It also calls for empowering passengers so they are able to identify their own level of risk and take control of their entire journey. These measures should also be constantly reevaluated, adapted, replaced or removed as necessary in accordance to local health guidelines. The paper was developed as a risk-based approach under the current understanding of the methods of transmission of the virus, so associations indicate that measures should be updated as more scientific information regarding the spread of the disease becomes available. Moreover, the association urges local government to support the industry in funding to ensure the implementation of these measures.

The paper outlines recommendations that begin before the passenger arrives to the airport, including travelers filling up internet forms that facilitates contact tracing. At the terminal, only passengers should be allowed inside, unless the passenger has a disability, to reduce crowds. Also, social-distancing measures should be enforced at airports but, the paper urges, these measures should be limited to the initial recovery stages as they are “incompatible with the restoration and development of air connectivity over-time given their limiting factor on airport capacity and aircraft capacity.” Other measures include the use of personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing (once fast and accurate testing methods are available), self-bag drop, constant disinfection of premises and immunity passports. During flight, airlines are urged to request the use of face masks and other personal protective equipment by passengers and crew and to perform frequent in-depth cleaning of the cabin.

Most importantly, associations urge governments across the globe to act fast and in a coordinated manner as “almost every challenge in aviation requires a team effort to solve it. Today we face the biggest challenge in commercial aviation’s history: restarting an industry that largely has ceased to operate across borders, while ensuring that it is not a meaningful vector for the spread of COVID-19.” While a uniformed approach is developed, airlines are taking initiative and implementing measures to protect passengers. For instance, Aeroméxico states that all passengers must use face masks at all times during flights. The company also provides sanitizing gel at attention modules. Moreover, the airline indicated that it would leave the middle seat of its aircraft free during flights if possible+ to promote social distancing.

Alicia Arizpe Alicia Arizpe Senior Writer