By Jeff Peet, Editor-in-Chief.
- Much has been said about the resilience of civil aviation. Many even argue that no other industry could have withstood a crisis like this, despite having been one of the most affected economic sectors and on which so many other areas such as tourism depend. In this context, the question that immediately arises is: How long can the industry endure such adverse conditions to operate? Or rightly, what does it require to continue operating, depending on what is coming?
The crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented and its effects on the economy and our way of life will continue for a while. This year has been very complex for everyone, private sector and public sector, and the population in general has been affected.
In recent months, we have seen the restart of operations globally and, despite knowing that it is a long road, we feel positive about the beginning of the journey towards the recovery of the travel and tourism sector with the new security measures.
To put things into perspective, it took 3 years for passenger volumes to recover after 9-11 in the United States and more than 7 years to recover from the 2008 global financial crisis. Once demand recovers, it will take years to pay off the accumulated debt, which will limit the ability of airlines to reinvest in their products and services.
Our industry is adapting almost daily to the very unique short, medium and long-term challenges of the pandemic. We have already seen some companies disappear this year and so many others have reduced their operations to a minimum to remain viable. It is therefore crucial to emphasize that a second wave of mobility restrictions would put the industry in an even more complex situation, putting millions of more jobs at risk around the world.
Looking forward, it is very important to focus on maintaining the operation efficient and safe, eliminating regulatory barriers and reinforcing the confidence of travelers.
- What is the area of the industry that is most affected, including all the aspects that encompasses and considering that commercial aviation is part of a large supply chain?
The entire value chain of the industry has been affected in similar proportions. On the one hand, airlines face passenger revenue losses of $ 419 billion and 54.7 percent less traffic in 2020 compared to 2019; airports calculate estimated losses of 60 percent of passenger traffic and more than 104.5 billion in lost airport revenue in 2020 compared to 2019; MRO companies have lost revenue of approximately $ 41 million. That is 45 percent less revenue than in 2019.
Likewise, a decrease in international tourism income has been calculated between 910 billion and 1.170 billion dollars in 2020, compared to the 1.5 billion dollars generated in 2019. For world trade, a fall of 9.2 percent has been calculated in the volume of world merchandise trade in 2020, again compared to 2019.
Aviation plays an important role in the global supply chain, being responsible for the transport of 40 percent of goods, mainly in the bellies of airplanes that carry passengers. Reduced traffic, losses in global connectivity and reduced operating capacity have an impact on the global supply chain.
- Civil aviation has undergone enormous advances in recent decades and has had the will and vision to incorporate cutting-edge technologies to protect the environment and be increasingly sustainable, at no lesser cost. In what way could the crisis they are experiencing today slow down that trend, given that resources are scarce today and could be allocated to other priorities?
The aviation industry maintains its firm commitment to the environment and an increasingly sustainable operation and this has not been altered by the pandemic. Modern aircraft, the development of new technologies and the large-scale production of sustainable fuels are some of the ways in which the industry continues to invest to achieve a more increasingly sustainable air transport.
The industry continues to advance in the 3 objectives set a decade ago which are:
- Improve fuel consumption efficiency by 1.5 percent per year, between 2010-2020
- Achieve carbon neutral growth in 2020, and
- Reduce net emissions by 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2005
- What good practices or new procedures like new technologies to meet the standards to prevent this pandemic, have you implemented as an industry and that you would like to highlight?
The pandemic has accelerated the digitization process of commercial aviation. Especially in the adoption of technologies that increase efficiency in operation and technologies that allow a “contactless” travel experience, which makes traveling even safer, in terms of health.
From the purchase of air tickets, online check-in, through automated baggage handling and boarding with biometric systems, the industry has focused on swiftly implementing solutions that reduce interaction and contact along the travel experience.
These technologies were already gaining relevance, but the global context and bio-safety recommendations have accelerated their implementation. It is something extremely positive that will continue to generate benefits, once the health crisis is over.
We can also mention the advanced technology of the aircraft. For several years now, airplanes have had HEPA filters that remove 99.99% of particles, including viruses and bacteria. This aircraft system allows air to circulate in the cabin every 2 to 3 minutes, which is substantially more frequent than in a hospital, for example, where this occurs every 10 minutes.
- In comparison to other regions of the world, what is the situation of Latin American commercial aviation and how long do you think it will take to recover? Do you have any forecasts?
It is estimated that Latin American and Caribbean aviation will close 2020 with 50% of the originally planned operation, a year in which a growth of around 5% was expected compared to 2019, when more than 300 million passengers were transported in the region. This represents a significant drop in a region where passenger traffic had been growing uninterruptedly in the last 16 years and which had the prospect of doubling in the next 10 years.
Recovery will not be so quick. It is estimated that in 2025 we would see the 2019 traffic levels in the region again, beginning with a recovery in the most robust and consolidated domestic markets, such as Brazil and Mexico, followed by the market for personal travel visiting friends and family, such as Colombia-Spain, Mexico-USA, Brazil-Portugal and Ecuador-Spain, and later business trips.
Markets will need to become more competitive to attract air operations and passengers again. Achieving regional harmonization and avoiding the proliferation of different and inefficient regulations that complicate and add costs to operations is essential in recovery.
- Will it take a lot for consumers to regain confidence, to count on aviation as a work tool or as part of business strategies?
According to a survey carried out by the IATA, of the passengers who have traveled since June, 86 per cent say they felt safe while traveling, with the greatest source of concern being the possibility of catching it from the passenger sitting next to them.
The cabins are extremely safe and the numbers show it. Of 1.2 billion passengers carried, only 44 potential cases were reported. This means 1 in every 27.3 million passengers. These cases were also reported before the bio-security protocols were implemented.
The use of masks and compliance with protocols are essential. Also, the configuration of the cabins makes aviation the safest medium: the seats and passengers sit forward and there is no face-to-face interaction, the backrests are a solid barrier, as said the air in the cabin circulates every 2 to 3 minutes and downward airflow prevents contact with the passenger’s respiratory tract.
- What is the opinion that ALTA and its members have of the response of the governments of the region to the concerns of the industry in the face of its almost total paralysis? Could it have been better?
We share the urgency of governments to protect citizens and we are aware of the economic impact that the health emergency has had on the public sector. However, as an industry, we have called on the governments of the region to take measures that also protect millions of jobs while ensuring health and safety measures.
According to data from the WTTC, about 11 million jobs are at risk in the travel and tourism sector in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the region’s GDP would lose about 200 billion dollars from this sector, in 2020. It is urgent to continue efforts to quickly recover activity and provide confidence to passengers.
This is a globally unprecedented situation and there has been – and there still is – much to learn. As an industry, we have adapted rapidly to the needs of the new context to take care of consumers, employees and citizens and it is important to keep the skies open, without adding additional regulatory barriers and to maintain communication and articulate industry-government coordination work.
Our call to governments is to adopt a balanced approach, based on risk assessment, eliminating quarantines and establishing standardized pre-flight testing requirements, reopening borders and allowing the entry of travelers of any nationality, arriving by air. .
We are in favor of a globally consistent approach, in relation to testing international passengers as a more effective alternative to quarantine measures, thus helping to restore the confidence of travelers. This will have a noticeable beneficial effect on tourism and local economies.
- Have you, as an association, made an analysis of how to improve relations with stakeholders, such as regulators and governments, so that when a situation like this happens again, you can aspire to an earlier and more effective restart of operations? In brief, how to minimize the damage?
Articulated industry-government work has always been important to us and in the current context it has gained even more relevance and urgency. The travel and tourism industry is essential for economies. It is a powerful generator of jobs (17 million jobs in the region, which represents 8 percent of the total of them) and an engine of many economic sectors and supply chains, bringing development and opportunities to more places, regardless of their remoteness.
The CART group, led by ICAO, is a great example of articulated industry-government work. The development of operating recommendations based on the fundamentals of health entities has been crucial to the safe restart of operations. It is important to achieve the standardized application of the protocols globally.
- In relation to the conference that you organized from December 6 to 8 2020 in the Riviera Maya (Mexico), the CCMA & MRO on Maintenance and Technical Purchases and whose first edition dates back to 1963, did you have a hard time making the decision to carry it out under the current circumstances? Were there many conflicting visions regarding organizing it within the industry or is it a sign of “business as usual”, to project confidence?
It was certainly a complex decision. In the first place, we evaluated the bio-security situation, in the sense that the necessary conditions exist to put together an event safely, for all participants.
For this reason we decided to hold the conference in the Mexican Caribbean, whose destinations Cancun and Riviera Maya were the first to receive the “Safe Travels” seal of security for travelers, granted by the WTTC.
I believe that the ALTA CCMA & MRO Conference, being the only in-person conference of the airline industry since the pandemic began, had an important role in providing a message of confidence to the world.
Although we adopt new measures that minimize contact and technologies that favor virtual contacts, face-to-face interaction will not be completely replaced. We are social beings and we need close interaction both personally and professionally.
It can be said that ALTA is a pioneer in resuming face-to-face activities and I believe we did so in a very responsible way, following rigorous hygiene, cleaning and bio-security protocols, recommended and validated by national and international authorities.
We led by example and practiced what we preach as an association and as an industry. We proved once again that aviation is the safest and most bio-secure means of transport.
- What were the main conclusions of, as you just pointed out, the only in-person event in the second half of 2020 of the Latin American and Caribbean aviation?
The ALTA & CCMA MRO Conference promoted meetings that facilitated fruitful conversations between suppliers and airlines, about what the sector needs to do to be more efficient, how to take advantage of technologies and resources for its development and, especially this year, for recovery.
We have managed to host a meeting with about 60 years of history and generating positive and high-value meetings for the development of Latin American aviation.
Among the topics discussed this year were: Big and good data management that can help us better planning for aircraft maintenance; the challenges of founding airlines in the region and how to improve maintenance services, among others.
This is a time to focus on generating efficiencies to keep the industry sustainable in the coming years, which we know will still be tough. Dialogue between airlines and suppliers allows us to have a better understanding of the needs of the operators and generate the solutions they need and that’s what we saw at this year’s succesful edition of the CCMA & MRO Conference.