The recently released annual World Airport Traffic Report provides a stark illustration of the enormity of the crisis facing airports due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the long road we face to build back to the levels of success we reached just a few months ago.
Last year marked the end of a decade of consistent growth in global passenger traffic before the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has brought airports around the world to a virtual standstill, resulting in airport traffic and revenue losses across all regions.
According to the report, passenger numbers are estimated to have surpassed 9.1 billion in 2019, an increase of +3.5% compared to 2018. For the first half of 2020, worldwide airport passenger numbers decreased by -58.4% compared to the same period in 2019, with international passenger traffic hit the hardest, recording a -64.5% drop. Overall aircraft movements declined by -41.6% while total cargo volumes handled by airports decreased by -12.4%, for the same period.
Make no mistake, this is an existential crisis for the industry.
The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) estimates that 46 million jobs are at risk because of the loss of connectivity caused by the crisis. Indeed, of the jobs directly supported by aviation, 60% are at airports.
Aviation – and airports as a key focal point of the industry – will be a key driver of the global economic recovery from COVID-19 but they face immense financial pressure to survive.
The call for government assistance is long past urgent. ACI first raised the issue of assistance in April and, while some support was forthcoming in some regions, it is clear that airports urgently need assistance and coordination to help safeguard jobs, protect essential operations.
To address the devastating impact of border closures and other government-imposed travel restrictions direct financial support should be provided to airports in a way that protects jobs and operations, does not increase debt levels, and minimizes default on debt and credit losses.
I recently joined with my counterpart at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Alexandre de Juniac to show that airports, airlines and their commercial partners are united in the need for direct and swift financial assistance. In a joint announcement, he said “Job losses—inside and outside the industry—mount with each day that borders are closed… and with each job lost the recovery and impact on the broader economy becomes even more difficult.”
But such assistance is only one piece of the puzzle.
As the industry restarts and prepares to sustain continuing operations, we are focused on the health and welfare of travellers, staff, and the public.
ACI and IATA are aligned in calling for urgent government action to introduce widespread and coordinated testing of passengers to enable quarantine requirements to be removed.
The industry is united in calling on the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force to provide an internationally agreed and recognized approach to testing that can be adopted at a national level.
As we begin the long and difficult journey back to the levels of success seen in 2019, we need to work together across the industry and hand in hand with ICAO and international health organizations to develop a global approach to testing that will help establish consistent and workable procedures.
In accordance with World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Regulations, costs related to public health measures aimed at mitigating the spread of communicable diseases, including the introduction of a coordinated approach to testing, should be borne by national governments.
Without this action by governments to assist the industry and to introduce sensible policies around testing to foster confidence in air travel, it is not an exaggeration that the industry is facing collapse.