COVID19 Road to Recovery for Air Transport & Tourism

Ioannis Settas


November 4, 2020

feature image Ioannis article

Optimism has been a scarce perspective in Air Transport and Tourism lately. The heavy toll the aviation industry is suffering from the pandemic has pushed almost everyone into a defense posture, with pessimistic scenarios being pervasive and inescapable, with forecasters and decision makers simply trying to ensure that they are “on the safe side” in projections. As illustrated below, ICAO has mapped out various scenarios for recovery of international seat capacity to the end of Q1-2021, which they are projecting to remain 40-60% below the pre-pandemic high water mark for the foreseeable future.

Source: ICAO

Unfortunately, this pessimistic attitude will not lead the way to strong and timely recovery. On the contrary, it is the surest way to a death spiral for the economy.  It requires a strong leadership to accept ownership of the problem and pave the way to actively plan for recovery and focus on solutions rather than complaints.

What is needed is a comprehensive and clearly articulated plan for recovery rather than continuing the “safe” approach of watching things develop and reacting to more pessimistic scenarios. It is true that this is a highly contagious virus, however it can be tackled by:

  • self-protection and hygienic measures
  • self-imposed physical distancing
  • rapid/accurate testing
  • effective contact tracing
  • development/distribution of an effective vaccine, and
  • development of an effective medical treatments.

Obviously, transportation and tourism must work to optimize implementation of these first four tools with a comprehensive and unified protocol for global application and press for a quick breakthrough of the last two. The primary focus belongs here, especially in view of recent advanced in highly accurate rapid tests, as well as HEPA filtering systems that can be applied not only in aircraft but to other modes of transport and hospitality, as well … and the increased awareness of self-protection measures for the general public.

Technology-based solutions, like the Honeywell portable V Cabin Ultraviolet-C Light (UVC) System, are being introduced to tackle this daunting challenge (Image source: Honeywell)

In parallel, the economic viability of the industry must be ensured. Of course, this is a far more difficult target to meet, simply because it encompasses a much more complicated challenge. Obsolete business models, organizational inefficiencies that create inactivity/inertia, financial exposure amplified by obsolete forecasts are some of the key challenges that require bold decisions under a daring leadership. Government support (for various reasons) should always be present in seeking a solution for the different scenarios, but it should not be a driver to apathy by the corporate decision makers, in the absence of such support.

Effectively, there are two levels of engagement needed in dealing with the issue of recovery. The top level collective industry/government approach on one hand, where industry bodies such as IATA, EASA, FAA, ACI etc. coordinate with governments and organizations for the implementation of global and unified (if possible) financial and procedural measures to support the industry’s recovery. For example, let’s consider the added value that a global protocol introducing rapid tests before boarding, in any mode of transport, or even before the hotel check-in, would have a major impact in creating a culture of trust for air transport and tourism, while helping to keep the virus in check.

On the other hand, there is the working level of each and every business in the sector (i.e. airline, airport, tour operator, hotel, bus transport, train operator, coastal and cruise ship company, etc.) where their corporate leadership must take action in plotting the way forward, re-engineering the organization and revising business and operational concepts, as well as processes and procedures that will ultimately redefine their product and assist in producing an updated business plan, worthy of investment/funding. Even with the eight-month hiatus the aviation industry is showing some promising signs of rebound, however this recovery is fragile. In the months to come, leading to the summer 2021 flight schedule will reveal the true prospects of hope and return to prosperity … in the meantime we need to stay positive and lead the way!