With the beginning of the northern hemisphere spring, gains continue to be made across the world in vaccination campaigns and domestic markets in the United States and China continue to show positive signs, bringing renewed optimism for a more comprehensive return of air travel this year.
ACI World expects recovery to happen in phases from an initial restart with limited number of passengers, through a slow build in travellers, and, finally, a return to more normal passenger volumes.
Our World Airport Traffic Forecasts show that this recovery is likely to be uneven across the world. Markets with significant domestic traffic are not expected to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels before 2023 and markets with a significant share of international traffic will recover much more slowly in 2024 and 2025.
Recovery will only be possible, however, if governments can get behind aviation with policy support and assistance to pursue a coordinated and risk-based approach to combining testing and vaccination to promote travel when the epidemiological situation allows.
That is why the publication by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of updated industry guidance, which will support a harmonized and consistent global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, is so important.
As we have consistently said, a balanced and effective restart and recovery will depend on collaboration among the key participants in the global aviation ecosystem.
The new Phase III updates issued on 12 March by the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force – and adopted by the ICAO Council – are a crucial step towards this important harmonization.
They will help bring coordination with renewed policy recommendations to States and updates to the Take-Off Guidance Document, and the Manual on Cross Border Testing and Risk Management which will help to set a global standard for recovery.
The updated guidance will provide immeasurable assistance in promoting the harmonization of measures being introduced around the world to facilitate the restart of air travel which will allow aviation to be a key engine driving global economic recovery.
All of these important efforts by the industry have resulted in some faltering steps towards a restart of air travel, but we know it will be a long haul.
For our part, we have been determined to support the industry with practical measures and assistance that takes into account the changing situation for airports and help them to lay the foundation for a long term and sustained recovery.
The Airport Health Accreditation programme, which is supported by ICAO, has been a significant tool by providing airports with an assessment of airport health measures in accordance with the task force recommendations and in alignment with the joint EASA and ECDC Aviation Health Safety Protocol and ACI EUROPE’s Guidelines for a Healthy Passenger Experience at Airports.
We have been gratified to see that, so far, more than 300 airports around the world have been accredited with hundreds more in the process of being accredited.
As the program is aligned with the CART guidelines, we are planning to launch the Airport Health Accreditation II, which will reflect the new recommendations from the latest version of the CART Take-Off Guidance.
ACI has also just released the second edition of the Aviation Operations during COVID-19 – Business Restart and Recovery which provides updated best practice examples and guidance for almost every aspect of airport operations during both the initial restart period and the longer-term recovery.
The publication not only includes updated guidance on the practical and efficient health and operational measures that can be introduced to support safe travel, but also includes new information on the provision of COVID-19 testing facilities at airports and supporting the distribution of vaccines. The document is available for free to our community with the objective to multiply the knowledge and efforts for the recovery process.
The Airport Health Accreditation programme and the new guidance document will ensure airports can implement measures that will be appropriate for local circumstances and demonstrate to passengers, staff, regulators, and governments that they are prioritizing health and safety in a measurable, established manner.
The key to all of our efforts is ensuring passengers feel safe and secure and want to travel. Indeed, the priority for airports has always been to protect the health and welfare of travellers, staff, and the public as it has navigated the COVID-19 crisis.
Our Airport Service Quality (ASQ) programme provides airports with a unique and powerful tool for assessing the expectations of customers, allowing them to tailor their operations to suit their changing needs.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic in 2020, airports still managed to collect ASQ surveys from their customers throughout the year and 108 awards were won by 89 individual airports around the world.
This year, in response to changing priorities following the spread of COVID-19, we introduced new hygiene related questions to the ASQ survey questionnaire and introduced a new award – ‘Best Hygiene Measures by Region’.
It provided airports with a reliable method of gauging customer response to new health measures and recognizes airports’ success in responding to the intense focus on hygiene. The new category also complements ACI’s Airport Health Accreditation programme and restart and recovery guidance.
Earlier this month we announced that 33 airports were inaugural winners of this prescient award.
This year more than any other, the awards recognize those airports that have listened to their customers and adapted the services and experiences they offer to meet changing needs and expectations under very trying circumstances.
I am immensely proud of how our members have responded to the challenges of the pandemic and the awards winners are testament to the ongoing pursuit of excellence.
As our industry works towards recovery, airports that listen to – and prioritize the needs and expectations of – customers will be better-placed to respond.
While the prospects for recovery have taken a hit following the introduction of renewed travel restrictions and lockdowns in response to new variants of the COVID-19 virus emerging, we are a strong and resilient industry.
There is a clear pathway for a return to long term growth but government policy support and direct assistance will be crucial.
A coordinated approach to testing and vaccination will ensure the health and safety of passengers, staff, and the general public, and promote travel, allowing us to be that key engine of growth, driving the recovery of the global economy.
Together, we can make it happen.