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Airlines Prepare to Tackle a New COVID-19 Reality

By Andrea Villar | Wed, 05/06/2020 - 13:14

The aviation and tourism industries are going through one of their most critical moments in modern history. Flights have been canceled and traveler mobility is limited. In the midst of this crisis unleashed by COVID-19, companies are wondering how their business models are going to change and the answer is almost always the same: everyone in the industry, from companies, flight crews and even passengers must face a new reality.

"The impact has been much more severe than anything else we have experienced," said Executive President of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Alexandre de Juniac. "It is unprecedented.” Since lockdown became mandatory in more than 200 countries, the number of daily flights has plummeted to 90 percent in some regions. In Latin America, the picture is even worse.

"Air traffic has practically disappeared. In the last week of March, there was a 90 percent reduction in traffic. And if Mexico, Brazil and Chile, which are the only countries with domestic flights, were excluded, the drop would be 97 percent," said in an interview with the BBC the Director of the Division for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Airports Council International (ACI-LAC) Rafael Echevarne. According to ACI-LAC, in 1Q20, the region's airports lost 40 million passengers and more than US$700 million in revenue.

Logistics: a Great Challenge

Once flight restrictions start to ease, one of the biggest challenges for airlines and airports will be preparing aircraft to fly again, reprogramming flight schedules and available staff. "Having a plane stalled at an airport is not easy. We have to find a place for the plane, and this is already a big problem because of the type of asphalt and surface where it should be,"  Rafael Echevarne says. According to the consulting firm Ascend by Cirium, currently, 17,000 planes are grounded at airports around the world, representing 60 percent of the global fleet. Airlines will need at least a week of preparation and they will also need to obtain certificates to demonstrate that they still meet safety standards.

However, half of those 17,000 aircraft are unlikely to be used for a long time. Many countries have limited travel expectations to the second half of the year and others have not given estimated dates. Argentina, for example, suspended all flights until September, while Panama will restart operations in June. In Mexico, although the government has not suspended international or domestic flights, the Ministry of Foreign Relations has asked users to avoid non-essential travel. Meanwhile, Aeromexico will gradually reopen international flights to certain regions this month.

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Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst