How the aviation industry is hoping to recover from coronavirus

Economic Affairs: “The entire experience from the point of view of the passenger will be different from what we’ve seen until today.”

PASSENGERS WEARING masks push trolleys yesterday at the departures terminal at Ben-Gurion Airport. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
PASSENGERS WEARING masks push trolleys yesterday at the departures terminal at Ben-Gurion Airport.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
"Did you remember to pack your immunity passport and face masks?”
There is little doubt air travel is going to undergo dramatic change under the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic – there simply is no choice.
For health authorities worldwide, international travel poses the greatest risk to containing the outbreak. For commuters and travelers, flying across the globe is a fundamental aspect of life that must continue, but only if perceived as safe.
The aviation sector has been battered by the pandemic. Airlines grounded entire fleets as governments rushed to close their borders, imposed quarantine measures and banned the entry of foreign nationals. While many airlines secured government bailouts, the coronavirus crisis proved to be the final straw for struggling airlines Flybe and Virgin Australia. As negotiations with the government flounder, Israeli flag carrier El Al will be desperate to avoid joining that undesirable list.
In global terms, a recent estimate by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) stated that passenger revenues will drop by more than half this year compared to 2019 – an incredible decline of $314 billion.
Damage to the $2.7 trillion global aviation industry is not limited to its employees or shareholders, with the association estimating that every one of the 25 million employees in the sector helps to support up to 24 additional jobs in the broader economy.
Airlines of all sizes face a dual challenge in restarting the global aviation industry, explains Kobi Zussman, the experienced Israel country manager of IATA.
“We are trying to define working programs of how to restart the industry, and how to operate under a situation where there is still no vaccine and there are still great restrictions,” Zussman, a former general manager of Cyprus Airways in Israel and El Al marketing manager, told The Jerusalem Post.
“The crisis of COVID-19 has had a far more dramatic impact on the aviation business than September 11. We thought there was nothing more dramatic than that point in time. Now, from an economic point of view, COVID-19 is a new financial low point for the aviation sector.”
 

On Thursday, Ben-Gurion Airport rolled out a pilot program of new “coronavirus-free” terminal safety measures, vowing to ensure the safety of passengers and employees alike. Yet due to its very nature, the aviation industry will be required to implement wide-ranging, global standards.
“An aircraft flies one day to destination X and then destination Y. From a practical point of view, you cannot handle one aircraft in two different ways in two different locations. The role of the IATA is to set the world standards,” Zussman said.
“I do believe that coping with COVID-19 will require a global alliance and global recognition of processes – similar to the global recognition of processes on security.”
Several airlines have already started announcing in-flight safety measures. Several major US carriers, Lufthansa and Wizz Air have already announced that all passengers must wear face masks. Ryanair travelers will need to ask to use the toilet to avoid crowding, and only contactless payments will be permitted for pre-packaged snacks.
A road map for restarting aviation developed by IATA recommends fundamental changes to the global passenger travel experience during the pre-flight, in-flight and arrival stages of the journey.
Even prior to arriving at the airport, it will be necessary to collect more detailed passenger contact information for tracing purposes, including through existing e-visa and electronic travel authorization platforms.
Once at the airport, terminal access should be restricted to employees, passengers and accompanying persons where necessary. Temperature screening should be carried out upon entry by professionally trained staff, face masks will be required for passengers and physical distancing must be implemented at all stages of the terminal journey. Equipment and facilities should be sanitized regularly, and hydroalcoholic gel should be widely available.
As soon as a reliable and fast COVID-19 test is developed and validated by the medical community, testing should be incorporated into the passenger process. Immunity passports will be supported once there is greater medical evidence to support immunity from COVID-19.
Passengers should complete as much of the check-in process as possible prior to arriving at the airport, with self-service options, self-bag drop and biometric technologies vital to minimizing passenger touchpoints.
Once onboard, the IATA believes that the risk of transmission between passengers is very low, due to customers all facing forward, seat backs providing a barrier, the use of high efficiency HEPA air filters, direction of airflow on board and limited movement onboard aircraft.
Despite the apparent low level of in-flight risk, face coverings should be worn, sanitization wipes may be provided to customers to clean spaces around them and procedures to limit movement onboard may be implemented.
After arriving at the destination, passengers should be made aware of any non-intrusive, mass temperature screening. It is recommended that electronic options for border control and customs declarations are introduced to minimize human contact, which may require the redesign of immigration halls. Baggage claim processes should be sped up to ensure passengers do not wait an excessive amount of time in baggage claim areas.
“The entire experience from the point of view of the passenger will be different from what we’ve seen until today,” said Zussman. “The recovery is going to be long, and we will not see the levels of traffic and demand which we were accustomed to before COVID-19. It will be a gradual process that could take probably two years.”
According to an April survey commissioned by IATA, 60% of recent travelers anticipate a return to travel within just one to two months of containment of the COVID-19 outbreak, but 40% indicate that they could wait at least six months. Some 69% of recent travelers would not consider traveling if it involved a 14-day quarantine period.
Dr. Eran Ketter, a lecturer at Kinneret College’s Department of Tourism and Hotel Management, told the Post he is “very optimistic” regarding the return of customers to the skies.
“We have seen in the past that consumers have a very short memory when it comes to negative events,” Ketter said. “People are used to traveling, global travel is part of our life and culture, and people will not be willing to let go of this.”
Ketter believes that millennials, also known as Generation Y, without children will be the first to travel. Once their peers and parents see that they are returning in good health, there’ll be a greater perception that the world is safe. Should international travel to Israel reopen in early June, he expects many segments of travelers to return by the end of the year.
“Many of the changes to the passenger journey will hopefully not last for very long. In the initial phase, when we just resume international flights, and COVID-19 remains a major concern, these preventative measures will be very important,” Ketter said.
“With time and vaccinations, we’ll see some things continue – including online check-in, and body temperature checks or questioning.”
Restrictive measures that have a significant impact on the economy – such as limiting duty-free shopping to pickup only – will return to normal, Ketter says, emphasizing that duty-free stores represent a major share of airport income.
“At the end of the day, the current period will be more similar than different to September 11,” said Ketter. “Global tourism will still continue but under another regulatory framework. Authorities will want to make sure that you are not a terrorist and also not a potential pandemic carrier.”