Optimism is slowly spreading across large parts of the ravaged aviation industry, which has suffered its worst-ever crisis as one of the hardest-hit sectors in the pandemic. As the global vaccination campaign continues, the outbreak of positive sentiment is backed by loosening travel restrictions around the world—most notably the United States and Australia are set to reopen their international borders in November and we expect more passengers to return to the sky by the end of this year.
After more than a year and a half without them, in-person conferences are starting to make their way into our calendars once again. I had the opportunity to reconnect with many industry colleagues at the 77th IATA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Boston, US, which was attended in person by some 600 delegates and 100 airline CEOs, and to share with them the industry’s optimistic forecast. Later this month I will be traveling to Milan to speak at the World Routes Forum, followed by Geneva for the 31st ACI EUROPE Annual Congress & General Assembly, and Monaco for the APG World Connect event. There is no doubt that we are making positive steps in the right direction and I am looking forward to welcoming you all at our next event—the World Annual General Assembly (WAGA), Congress and Exhibition that will be held from 21–24 November in Cancun, Mexico.
Unfortunately, despite this positive outlook, there have been tensions on the recovery road. After a period that saw unprecedented collaboration and unity of airports and airlines in surviving this crisis and rebuilding passenger confidence, it has been disappointing to hear of out of context claims made about the airport industry from our fellow aviation organization IATA. We will continue to collaborate with our airline partners and other stakeholders to rebuild a sector that is resilient and sustainable—but it needs to be fair for the entire aviation ecosystem.
Critical to reconnecting the world will be a harmonized and risk-based approach to travel restrictions, underpinned by government action, to promote safe travel with a coordinated approach to testing and vaccination. All regional, national, and local government authorities are urged to ensure vaccine equity and to recognize all people who have received COVID-19 vaccines that have been deemed safe and effective by the World Health Organization (WHO) as fully vaccinated—in order to safely re-open borders and re-establish global air connectivity.
Beginning tomorrow, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will hold its first major event of 2021, bringing together ministerial delegations from around the world as part of the ICAO High-level Conference on COVID-19. Unfortunately, this event still will take place in a virtual format, meaning that we will not be able to physically sit at the same table as the other delegations. Nonetheless, ACI will be very much present during this event and has great expectations going into this.
With the overall theme of “One Vision for Aviation Recovery, Resilience, and Sustainability beyond the Global Pandemic,” the event will look to reach a global consensus on a multilateral approach, supported by political will and commitments of governments, to enable the safe and efficient recovery of aviation from the COVID-19 crisis and build the foundation to strengthen resilience in aviation and strive towards long-term sustainability.
Through our engagements with ICAO, ACI has been involved in the development of many aspects of the event, including providing inputs to the high-level ministerial declaration that will be signed by ICAO’s member States as an outcome of the event. We have been diligently working with our partners within ICAO, as well as a multitude of governments and industry organizations, to ensure that our positions and key advocacy messages on behalf of airports and the wider aviation community are communicated and heard.
During the opening session, I will have the pleasure of addressing the global delegations that will be gathered around the virtual table with opening remarks. This is an important opportunity to raise some of our key messages around the pressing need for a long-term sustainable recovery of our industry. I will speak to:
The consequence of failure would be a significant challenge to the airport and aviation industry as passenger traffic demand begins to return. These include increased passenger processing times and longer aircraft ground times, generating operational delays and capacity constraints at airports, all of which would negatively affect travel resumption and the customer experience. The lack of staff already seen in certain areas of the sector, as well as within certain government agencies, is likely to compound this already complex situation.
For these reasons, I will be asking ministers during this introductory session to support a pragmatic and risk-based approach to managing the sustained recovery of the industry and be ready to remove these barriers as the industry returns to higher levels of traffic. We must learn from the mistakes of the past, such as following 9/11, and recognize that we need a proportionate response to the threat and not to continue to require measures once the need has passed.
The conference will also have two technical streams that will focus on Safety and Facilitation respectively. ACI World has submitted two working papers in these streams to support its members’ interests worldwide:
The Safety Stream Working Paper focuses on “Ground Handling as a Key Component of the Long-Term Resilience and Sustainability of the Aviation System,” and has been co-developed with the Airport Services Association. It presents and emphasizes the importance of Ground Handling Service Providers (GHSPs) as part of the longer-term economic and social sustainability of the aviation ecosystem, as well as the importance of ensuring that overall levels of safety are sustained through adequate safety management processes applied by GHSPs and government. It proposes the adoption of a balanced regulatory framework addressing the safety risks related to ground handling activities.
The Facilitation Stream Working Paper focuses on “Innovation for Recovery, Facilitation, and Sustainability.” It presents proposals for ICAO to evolve its processes and working methods in order to keep pace with innovation and promote sustainable practices across the industry. The working paper also addresses the importance of ensuring that measures implemented should be sustainable and risk-based.
Overall, I expect the outcomes of this important alignment event to help steer the ongoing recovery of the industry and ensure a longer-term sustainable approach to building the future of the industry. I truly hope that the industries’ messages will be heard throughout the event and picked up on by governments and ICAO to help create a better industry together through a collaborative approach.
The full recovery of 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.