Hermes – Air Transport Organisation and Aeronautica Civil de Colombia co-organised an insightful online event regarding the issues, challenges and opportunities which may arise, on the Latin American Air Transport market, in the post COVID-19 era. The panel consisted of a great variety of aviation stakeholders, who shared their opinions regarding the needed actions which will provide resilience and efficiency to the industry through mutual efforts and initiatives.

Juan Carlos Salazar, Director General, Aeronautica Civil de Colombia, and Dr Kostas Iatrou, Director General, Hermes – Air Transport Organisation, presented their welcome speeches by pointing out the major challenges in the Latin American market, which occurred due to Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the importance of Leadership and Cooperation for the future of the air transport industry.

The first keynote speaker, Salvatore Sciacchitano, President of the Council, ICAO, addressed to the severe impact of COVID-19 on the Air Transport Industry by mentioning that ICAO is projecting an overall global reduction in passenger volumes of between 41-50% for 2021, compared to the 60% reduction it monitored for 2020. Following his speech, he emphasised on the significant downturns on the global and regional air travel which continue to present high liquidity strains to all aviation related companies, as well as across the full extent of the air transport and tourism value chain. The President highlighted, once again, how the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) provides the guidelines and recommendations for an international alignment of measures and the promotion of a more effective public-private cooperation among governments and the aviation industry. The Phase III of the CART’s guidance and recommendations lays the foundation for the creation of public health travel corridors, promotion of safe and efficient global vaccine distribution and multilateral cargo air services, and encourages standardized COVID-19 testing certificates for secure international use. A short-term success with these strategies will establish risk management strategies for a gradual route opening. Moreover, he long-term implications identified as major challenge, among aviation leaders, as they have to choose between acceleration of digitization or higher passenger expectations for healthier and more sustainable travel options. At last, Salvatore Sciacchitano identified the multidimensional nature of the Covid-19 crisis as well as the importance of the new regional air cargo liberalization agreement which will help on the distribution of the vaccine and long-term recovery across Latin America.

As the second keynote speaker, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Director General of ACI, expressed his optimism for the future due to surge of global vaccinations, easing of several country restrictions as well as falling infection statistics. He identified the vulnerability of the air transport sector to events of such scale as well as that the insurance of the highest level of safety and security for passengers and operations is industry’s top priority. The challenges which arise of such events provide great opportunities for cooperation among the aviation sector. Luis Felipe de Oliveira recognised ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) as an example which enables collaboration among governments and between governments and the industry. He also welcomed Phase III of CART’s guidelines and presented Airport Health Accreditation programme for the support of global coordination of new measures and recovery. The highly involving programme consists of almost 600 participants, which represent 70% of the global passenger traffic and aims to the prioritisation of health and safety as well as harmonisation of global guidelines. Director General referred to the need for an establishment of a sustainable plan for the future of the airports and identified that Latin America could be a great contributor to this effort. He concluded that the next months will be crucial, however through continuous effort of international solidarity and collaboration the industry can face this great challenge.

As the moderator, Jeff Poole, President of Hermes – Air Transport Organisation, addressed to significance of such event due to the importance of air connectivity between the Latin American countries as well as its significance for the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine. He identified that external parties have great impact on the decision making process as well as new business models need to be adopted as the aviation environment influenced by several factors.

Juan Carlos Salazar, Director General of Aeronautica Civil de Colombia, initiated the event by addressing to three major factors which the industry need to rely in order to restore the confidence both from travellers as well as the authorities and these are: leadership, cooperation and good communication. Based on the CART’s guidelines, he presented Colombia’s plan to face the pandemic which consisted of the Recovery Plan and the Establishment of health protocols both for domestic and international travel. The holistic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic affected every air transport stakeholder, in different levels, however in order to face such great challenge the Latin American market needs to establish leadership and cooperation guidelines. He highlighted the need of implementation of certain guidelines for the harmonisation of several processes and decisions while he admitted that is vital for the industry to initiate joint actions with other sectors. Juan Carlos Salazar recognised that a viable recovery demands the participation of multiple partners, including people from the local governments. At last, Director General pointed out that the challenge for the industry is to implement CART’s guidelines in order to create health corridors and reboot domestic and international traffic.

Jaime Binder, Secretary General of Latin-American Civil Aviation Commission (LACAC) recognised that a global crisis demands global solutions. However, in the Latin American region authorities implement more nationalist, and not multilateral, approaches to face the pandemic. Moreover, the governments do not have the ability to support the air transport sector as others have extensively done. According to Jaime Binder, the multidimensional crisis has increased the lack of people’s confidence as well as on the current situation nobody can guarantee any prediction regarding the end of the pandemic. He recognised the CART initiative as the main tool for the provision of guidelines and its recommendations are vital for the recovery and future of the industry. At last, Secretary General identified sustainable aviation and technology as the main pillars which the industry can rely on for the recovery as well as the affordability of the air transport among the Latin American region. He also pointed out his optimism on the recovery of aviation and his trust on the system.

José Ricardo Botelho, Executive Director & CEO of ALTA first admitted that it’s time for all parties to start cooperating but also identified the different approaches on both governmental as well as operational level. He highlighted the major importance of aviation for the Latin American-Caribbean region and its unique role to connect the different countries. The Executive Director & CEO of ALTA presented his strong belief that harmonisation of processes and strategies are fundamental for a viable future towards a post COVID-19 era. He mentioned that the industry has presented itself to safe and now it is time to properly communicate it. As the air transport sector represents 15% of the total GDP for the region, José Ricardo Botelho highlighted the importance of the implementation of COVID-19 passports, as well as Test, by pointing out the existing Latin American market experience from previous years. He concluded by mentioned that the tools which the industry has right now can be used to reach the light out of the darkness. The use of right information, the harmonised processes as well as the ICAO guidelines will provide a safer sector.

Dr Rafael Echevarne, Director General of ACI-LAC addressed to the heavy losses for the Latin American Airport sector, while he mentioned the essential character of aviation for the region. However, he mentioned that infrastructure remains a major challenge for the airports and the current situation does not provide any positive results so far. He discussed phenomenon of airports of two different shifts by highlighting the recovery of domestic and international capacity of certain airports of the region in addition with others. In contrast with the other speakers, Dr Rafael Echevarne identifies technology as the biggest ally towards recovery from the pandemic. Moreover, the harmonisation of the processes still play crucial role on implementation of common actions and protocols. He stated that now is the opportunity for the industry to challenge the strict regimes towards air travel, when at the same time he totally supports an extended cooperation of all aviation stakeholders at a time when the industry has both the protocols as well as the guidelines to achieve this.

Javier Vanegas, Director of Latin America and Caribbean Affairs, CANSO, recognised the vital role of the airline industry during the difficult times of the pandemic. However, he mentioned the great amount of job losses as well as other impacts of the pandemic to the air transport industry. He referred to the provided policies and introduction of frameworks and guidelines for the aviation sector, in order to ensure its resilience. Mr Vanegas identified that nature of the industry is to adapt rapidly and establish collaborations for its viability and continuum. Although, Javier Vanegas addressed to the great impact of governmental decisions on the air travel which concluded to even more decline of the South American capacity. He concluded that air transport industry remains safe and this needs to be addressed to the world. The main goal has to be a joint effort between aviation stakeholders and regional governments.       

Jeff Peet, Managing Editor of América Latina Aeronoticias (ALA) focused on the communication of the proper messages. He identified the strong effort that has been done both from the companies as well as the governments. He recognises technology as the key factor for safety and recovery, however he insisted on the definition of a common messaging strategy. He stated that the aviation industry needs to communicate the value of air transport beyond the tourism level. Furthermore, he addressed to the future of the industry which will be closely connected to sustainability. As part of the industry’s future, environmental policies, inequality issues as well as social responsibility campaigns need to become part of aviation sector’s new normality. He concludes referring to the crisis as an opportunity and that communication could be the right tool for harmonisation.

Summarising what has been said, Juan Carlos Salazar highlighted the following outcomes:

  1. Recognition of efforts towards harmonisation with the CART guidelines
  2. Major challenges in the region demand effective implementation of strategies
  3. Reactivation of the air connectivity in the rest of the world in contrast with the Latin American region
  4. A global crisis requires harmonisation of the processes
  5. The help of the regional authorities is vital for the recovery of the industry
  6. Major capacity decrease in the region requires strong implementation of technology in the future
  7. The continuity of air connectivity is essential for Latin America
  8. The importance of communication in order to communicate the right message