Never let a good crisis go to waste: Building back better together

Luis Felipe de Oliveira by Luis Felipe de Oliveira | Aug 11, 2021

There is no doubt that the pace of recovery is starting to accelerate. While travel might not be the same as it once was, many countries around the world have started to ease border restrictions and reopen for international travellers, with an emphasis on those that have been vaccinated. More than two-thirds of the world’s countries, including most of Europe, have reopened to travellers from the United States, despite the ongoing pandemic.

Last month I was able to experience what international travel looks like for the first time after being fully vaccinated. Terminals are slowly starting to get busier and the check-in process is taking longer due to the added complexities associated with the authentication for proof of vaccination and the traveller’s health status. I knew that the additional 20 minutes that were added to my check-in process at the YUL Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport would likely delay the initial departure time and therefore cause me to miss my connection in Frankfurt, which is exactly what had happened. This did not bother me at all as I was able to enjoy a good espresso at YUL as well as browse through the duty-free shops before boarding the almost full flight to Europe. Upon arrival in Frankfurt, the airline staff was quickly able to book me on another flight, which gave me enough time to validate again my proof of vaccination with the German authorities, as well as enjoy the lounge, which required all users to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before they were allowed to enter the facility. Social distancing was possible and respected inside the lounge, and the usual self serve food and beverage option was modified to service on demand. Needless to say the end-to-end passenger journey is quite different, especially considering the additional health and safety measures which have been introduced as a result of the pandemic, however I felt very safe and confident that the airports and airlines were taking all the necessary measures to make their customers feel comfortable to fly again.

The highlight of my trip to Europe was being able to talk in front of an audience and feel the energy of the room– the range of interactions with industry colleagues gave me an additional boost of energy to continue to work hard to support our industry and to pave the road for recovery.  I cannot emphasize enough the value and effectiveness of face-to-face meetings, and the ability to establish closer connections. In Munich I had the opportunity to meet with Jost Lammers, a valued Board Member; in Rome I was finally able to meet for the first time my colleagues from ACI Europe Olivier Jankovec and from ACI APAC Stefano Baronci, together with Rafael Echevarne from ACI LAC and Marco Troncone the CEO of Rome Airport; and in my home-town Geneva, I had a wonderful dinner with the CEO of Geneva Airport, Andre Scheider, where we discussed the future of our industry, the ACI Fund, and our personal approach towards business. While there I was also able to have a meeting with the World Health Organization to discuss how we can cooperate to safely reopen international borders, and how we can work together in the future on emergency preparedness and other pressing global challenges.

I am back in Montreal now, and for the first time I am not required to complete a 14-day quarantine, which is a huge relief and definitely a step in the right direction to encourage people to travel again. International travel is definitely very different than what it was over a year ago, however I am definitely looking forward to my next adventure. 

Recovery is within our grasp

Despite the slower than expected first half of 2021, projections indicate that close to 19.7 billion passengers will traverse the world’s airports by 2040 – more than double the 2019 air passenger levels. The recovery of the sector to pre-COVID-19 levels is expected to be mainly driven by domestic travel, which is projected to recover to 2019 levels by the end of 2023, with international travel recovering by 2024, before resuming long-run passenger growth trends.

Aviation is crucial for the global economy and the communities that we serve, as the air transport industry is responsible for around nine per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the catalytic effect that airlines, airports, the tourism sector, and other players of the industry produce. To ensure that aviation can continue to provide the economic and social benefits, it is imperative that we work together across the industry and hand in hand with ICAO and international health organizations to ensure a coordinated recovery while providing crucial reassurance to travellers and staff. Around 60% of aviation jobs are at airports and local economies have been heavily affected by the reduction of activity and job losses due to the impact and effects of the pandemic.

Although there is a less clear-cut end to this crisis, that does not mean that there is no end in sight. Thanks to scientific excellence and international cooperation, I am confident that we will come out of this crisis even stronger. But we can’t just build back – we got to build back getter.

Recovery is within our grasp – but we can only get there with a more effective, more co-ordinated, and more equitable vaccination rollout around the world. We have already delivered vaccinations to millions of people, but we have much more work to do to put this pandemic behind us. It is extremely important that we ramp up the pace and get as many people vaccinated as possible so that we can prevent the spread of COVID-19, which will than also prevent the emergence of variants.

We need to continue to move forward in a thoughtful and responsible way – this is a unique moment in history, and it requires global solidarity, science and ingenuity, and perseverance. Recovery from COVID-19 offers us an opportunity to show global industry leadership in making the whole aviation industry more resilient than ever.

We can play our part in enabling the next generation to begin their journey, our businesses to thrive, our communities to be better, and our planet more sustainable.

Sounds ambitious, yet 2020 proved we can change at pace and adapt quickly to new circumstances – and even more so when we do it together, we are even stronger, create even bigger impact, and even greater change.

Airport business recovery and cargo operations guidance

Over the last 17 months, ACI has worked with governments, international organizations, and industry partners to address the concerns of the aviation industry in an effort to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and return to a thriving and dynamic business. Airports have shown considerable resilience and ingenuity in developing guidelines and procedures to help passengers feel safe and secure, and ACI has promoted the interests of airports in the global community, which goes well beyond aviation.

As part of our continued efforts to restore air connectivity and provide support to our members during these difficult times, last week we published two documents: an updated guidance for airports to aid in their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on their operations, as well as new guidance on developing cargo operations at airports.  

The third edition of Airport Operations Business Restart and Recovery, sponsored by Honeywell, who has contributed additional chapters on technological solutions for healthy airports, has been retitled to Airport Operations and COVID-19: Business Recovery to reflect the expanded guidance provided on health passes and COVID-19 testing facilities, as well as risk management when returning to operations, with a particular focus on human factors during recovery. The objective of this document is to give airports advice on implementation and best practice of measures that might be appropriate according to the different circumstances.

Airports have shown – and continue to show – considerable resilience and ingenuity in developing procedures to help passengers feel safe and secure, and ACI has promoted the interests of airports in the global community, which goes well beyond aviation. The ACI Airport Health Accreditation Programme is a clear example of our shared commitment to prioritized health, safety, and the customer experience on the path to recovery, while also ensuring harmonization between the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) global guidance and industry implementation. 

The intention of the second guidance, Developing Cargo at Airports, published in collaboration with and sponsored by Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO) and InterVISTAS, is to help airport operators develop successful cargo strategies that can contribute to the sustained recovery of the industry by developing alternative revenue streams.

Furthermore the guidance was developed to enable airports to better understand and identify opportunities and help those airports that currently have extensive cargo operations with the re-formulation of their cargo strategy where needed. As airports come out of the pandemic and look to ensure long-term financial sustainability through the diversification of their revenue streams, cargo is an important area to be explored. Cargo continues to be critical to global recovery through the supply of goods – such as medicine, medical equipment, and most recently, vaccines – and playing a key role in supporting the communities we serve.

The time for airport business recovery is now – as we work towards restarting travel and reopening international borders, I am confident that the new guidance will provide airports with the necessary tools and information to build back stronger, and return aviation to the pathway of growth that we were collectively building before.

Back on the global aviation events calendar: Customer Experience Global Summit 2021

Following the recent government announcement that Canada will finally open its borders – as of 9 August, fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents from the United States will be allowed to enter the country, with fully vaccinated travellers from other countries allowed to enter in early September – I look forward to bringing back the industry-leading ACI World’s Customer Experience Global Summit to Montreal’s Palais des Congrès on 8 and 9 September.

Under the theme Gateway to the new travel journey: Share. Rethink. Evolve., the hybrid conference will be one of the first on the aviation calendar to bring industry leaders together to discuss the importance of customer experience and the ever-evolving needs and expectation of customers at a crucial time for industry recovery. Being able to understand travellers’ new needs will give airports an opportunity to tailor their services, better align with passenger’s new purposes, and forge new relationships that accelerate growth, and strengthen customer loyalty by providing them with greater confidence in a still-uncertain world.

The summit will again this year include the celebration of the 2020 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards providing an opportunity to pay tribute to those airports that have prioritized customers at a time when meeting their needs and expectations has never been more important. The ASQ programme is the world’s leading airport customer experience measurement and benchmarking programme and has been adapted to ensure it remains of the highest quality during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we pivot from managing the current crisis to preparing for tomorrow’s opportunities, it is clear that recovery will be boosted if passengers continue to have confidence in the health and safety of air transport.

Airports continue to listen to their customers to adapt the services and experiences they offer under very trying circumstances and, as we see signs of optimism on the horizon for recovery, I am excited that we will be able to come together again as an industry to show how a focus on customers will help guide the way. I believe this event will be a great opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues from the industry – we need to set an example to the rest of the world by taking to the skies again and leading our industry back on the road to prosperity. I invite you all to join us in Montreal, the global capital of civil aviation, and help us send a positive message of support for the recovery of our industry.

A story of resilience

While it is still difficult to determine how long the pandemic will last, our industry’s resilience in the face of adversity has been extremely impressive. The aviation industry has proven time and again its ability to shape and adapt to external shocks and crises, and this time around it has demonstrated its ability to fight against COVID-19 with what it does best: transporting goods and services to where they are needed most and reuniting families and loved ones from all corners of the globe.

The full recovery of transatlantic air travel would not only have a significant, positive impact on our respective economies, but would also restore the business of freedom – the ability to sustainably connect cultures and spread prosperity beyond borders.

The next five years will be crucial. As the industry recovers, our attention needs to be focused on infrastructure and sustainability to cope with our positive view that the industry will double in size by 2040. I believe that ACI’s role is as a key influencer and driver of change in our industry. We are stronger together – global collaboration between us and the other representatives of the aviation ecosystem – especially with ICAO, IATA, and our other valued global partners – will be essential for the industry to successfully sustain a balanced recovery and beyond.

Luis Felipe de Oliveira

Luis Felipe de Oliveira

Director General, ACI World
Luis Felipe joined ACI World as Director General in June 2020 bringing with him vast experience in commercial and technical aviation. He successfully led the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) between October 2017 and May 2020, promoting positive change in the organization. Prior to joining ALTA, Luis Felipe served as World Fuel Services’ Vice President Supply Development for Latin America and Caribbean where he was responsible for improving World Fuel’s aviation fuel business in the region. He is a Chemical Engineer and graduated from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and has a postgraduate qualification in Finance from the University of São Paulo, an MBA from Dom Cabral Foundation in São Paulo, and Post MBA from Kellogg University in Chicago.
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