Supporting airports as the industry faces its biggest challenge

Luis Felipe de Oliveira by Luis Felipe de Oliveira | Jul 7, 2020

Last month, I arrived in Montreal to take up my new role as Director General.

Succeeding Angela Gittens, who for 12 years has provided ACI World and the industry with strong leadership, will be no easy task but I like to think of the succession not as a replacement, but as an opportunity to do the same job but with my own flavour and perspective.

As we were not working together in the office, it was a different hand over to the one we had planned and was done virtually. There have been plenty of interesting ideas from a very dynamic team and clear views about the development of our Vision 2025 including strategic long-term actions to ensure ACI continues to serve our industry in a very proactive way.

I join at a time when our industry is facing its biggest challenge. It will require us to think differently to run the organization in the most efficient way, supporting our members and our regions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought airports around the world to a virtual standstill and continues to have a dramatic impact on the wider aviation ecosystem.

The only way that we can recover is working together to create a positive movement with harmonization at its base and we will need to work very hard in the next few years to make sure that airports’ concerns and interests are integrated.

As airports and the aviation industry prepares to restart amidst the pandemic, the health and safety of passengers and staff is front and centre in the recovery plans being made.

A variety of new measures, processes, and procedures are already being considered or introduced around the world.

Collaboration, cooperation, and consistency will be key, first for the industry to successfully restart, and then for sustaining a balanced recovery from the unprecedented global challenge posed by COVID-19.

Prospects for recovery: Potential scenario

Recovery will depend on factors external to aviation and things aviation itself can do to restore confidence in air travel.

In the short term, the industry restart will be directly related to the continued lifting of travel restrictions and indirectly to the depth and duration of the projected global recession.

We strongly support the reduction of travel restrictions based on medical evidence and the technology to mitigate risks. Aviation is a key contributor for sustainable economic and social development around the world and we are ready to support this as airports are key assets to help the return of economic activity.

Evidence suggests that aviation markets with a significant share of domestic operations are more resilient in the face of the ongoing health crisis and will be the first ones to recover.

China and the United States exemplify this pattern, as both countries continue to display a modest number of domestic flights.

The major international aviation markets, on the other hand, demonstrate in general much deeper declines in traffic volumes. There will be a substitution away from international travel even when international travel restrictions will be alleviated.

There are positive developments in Europe with EUROCONTROL reporting that network traffic is expected to reach up to 16,500 flights during the second part of July and getting gradually to up to 18,000 flights for the first half of August 2020. This would represent on average, for the beginning of August 2020, approximately 50% of the traffic during a similar period in 2019.  

15 European countries have also opened their borders to international traffic which shows a positive move to re-establish public confidence in air travel.

ACI World now predicts that it will take at least three years for global passenger traffic to get back to 2019 levels, but the dynamics of the recovery is attached to many non-controlled variables from the industry. A new vaccine could accelerate the process as a new wave of infections could dampen recovery.  

The aviation industry coming together

At the global level, ACI has published a detailed guidance document on measures airports should take to protect the safety and security of employees and the flying public and has coordinated with International Air Transport Association (IATA), the World Travel and Tourism Council, the United Nations World Tourism Organization and other global organizations to align efforts to produce consistent guidance. Aviation Operations during COVID-19 – Business Restart and Recovery provides best practice examples for both the initial phases of this business restart, as well as the longer-term recovery process.

The most important of these is the effort with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to provide guidance to countries as they open their aviation sector.

The Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), enables collaboration among governments and between governments and industry, which is vital to ensure synergy and essential to restoring air connectivity and passenger confidence in air travel.

The CART guidelines include principles and specific measures for airports, aircraft, crew and cargo, consistent with the medical evidence provided by the World Health Organization. It is intended to be a living document just as the ACI document is changing with medical evidence and best practice experience on the ground.

While ACI World believes there is currently no single measure that could mitigate all the risks of restarting air travel, the harmonization of any new processes and procedures represents the most effective way of balancing risk mitigation with the need to unlock economies and to enable travel.

Governments and industry regulators will need to ensure that any new processes that they require airports to introduce are adapted to changing data and medical evidence and ensure that they remain aligned with those deployed through other modes of transport and the wider society.

The ICAO CART document provides a global guideline – aviation is a global business and must have a standard solution to support the recovery process.

Shift to virtual: ACI Global Training offers first virtual course

As the aviation industry restarts and begins to plan its long-term recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, ACI is focused on providing more accessible training and development programmes tailored to the new needs of our members.

We are delighted to have partnered with Bahrain Airport Company (BAC) to implement our first ever virtual training course, which will enable the Tahleeq team members to safely continue their third module of their professional development program during the COVID-19 crisis.

The eight-day online course, Airport Non-Aeronautical Revenues, explores non-aeronautical revenues as a key contributor to the financial success of airports, an area that has become more important in the wake of COVID-19.

This partnership is an example of the kind of innovative and collaborative approach that will help us to sustain the recovery process. Now more than ever, the airport industry needs motivated and experienced people, and ACI will continue to think outside the box to make sure to meet the future needs of our members.

Looking into the future

Airports play a very important role in the global economy, generating millions of jobs and providing social and economic benefits for the communities they serve. To have the best chance at success, any new processes will need to be data-driven and evidence-based, agreed in alignment with all stakeholders, and harmonized globally.

ACI will be central to this process and we will need to work very hard in the next few years to make sure that airports’ concerns and interests are integrated and that any measures are designed to ensure passengers and staff understand that their health and safety are our priorities.

Global collaboration between us and our global partners will be essential for the industry to successfully sustain a balanced recovery.

As we continue to navigate the global challenge of COVID-19, ACI World will be there to advocate for our members, to provide the data and guidance they need, and to work with the ACI regions to help them come back stronger than ever.

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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