By, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, ACI World Director General
After two and a half years I was fortunate enough to be able to reconnect with my family in Brazil and celebrate the holidays together with my loved ones. Christmas, for those who celebrate it, has always been special, but after a very challenging 2021, this past Christmas felt even more meaningful. It truly emphasized the importance of spending quality time with family and friends—social interaction is critical for good health (both physical and mental) and a key component in our ability to cope with stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic. I am now back in Montreal where once again the government has imposed a lockdown which also includes a 10 pm curfew. I wonder at what point we will learn that a zero-COVID policy and lockdowns are no longer an effective strategy to counter the crisis.
Indeed, the pandemic has changed everything and will continue to influence our lives for years to come. It has also had a profound impact on our business; however, we have shown that we are stronger when we stick together, and ACI will continue to stress the importance of collaboration with industry partners, and global, regional, and national regulators as a true global aviation ecosystem. More than ever, we will continue to work as a unifying voice for our members and continue to support airports with resources, guidance, and services.
If ACI and airports’ achievements over the past year have demonstrated our resiliency, airports will continue to adapt and recover. No one said full recovery would be easy. What matters is that airports, the industry, and the world at large is well-equipped in our united battle as we learn to live with the virus in an endemic future.
Prior to the pandemic, aviation worldwide supported 87.7 million jobs, contributing US$3.5 trillion in GDP. Aviation’s impact also extends to social development, supporting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, providing lifelines, emergency support, and connecting family and friends worldwide. To meet and exceed pre-pandemic social and economic benefits, the industry, and international and national regulators, must continue to work together in a coordinated and effective manner.
To restore these benefits, here are 6 key industry priorities to begin 2022 and accelerate airports’ sustained long-term recovery.
1. Evidence-based, outcome-driven travel measures
The urgent need for governments to coordinate and implement evidence-based, outcome-driven travel measures is critically needed. The multitude of different travel restrictions around the globe continues to affect the global aviation system and the millions of livelihoods that depend on the trade, tourism, and investment that aviation provides.
Harmonization of measures is essential to support the safe restoration of international operations and connectivity. As much as possible, measures should be consistent between countries—and when measures differ, good coordination and clear communication to passengers remains key to avoiding a negative impact on passenger confidence and excessive costs for airports, operators, and other stakeholders.
2. Interoperable solutions to health credentials and mutual recognition of vaccinations
One of the main challenges is coordinating and managing the mutual recognition of vaccinations, particularly as booster or third doses are introduced, and the science evolves. 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.
As such, requirements for health credentials should be simple, internationally agreed and adopted, interoperable across borders, and flexible. Digital solutions can offer many advantages if they work cross-border, across stakeholders and protect customer privacy.
ACI will continue to work with the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) supporting the development of recommendations to States, as well as continue to develop our own recovery guidance material and services, included the fourth edition of the Airport Operations and COVID-19: Business Recovery later this year.
3. Airport health excellence and the customer experience
The new year and the evolution of the pandemic and its impact on the industry provides airports with an opportunity to continue to demonstrate to passengers that providing a safe airport experience for all travelers is an overriding priority. The ACI Airport Health Accreditation (AHA) program remains an excellent resource to help airports to continue to prioritize the health and well-being of their passengers and staff.
The Accreditation is based on the ICAO CART guidance and is consistent with CAPSCA recommendations for States, taking an airport centric approach to common requirements. Topics include cleaning and disinfection; physical distancing (where feasible and practical); staff protection; physical layout; passenger communications and passenger facilities; and include all passenger areas and processes from terminal access to arrivals exit.
4. Modernized global policy framework on airport charges
Airports have suffered staggering financial losses due to the impact of the pandemic on air traffic. What’s more, the ACI CAPEX Needs Report estimated that a total of US$2.4 trillion global airport CAPEX is required by 2040. Airports need to be able to set airport charges with a commercial focus to attract the level of investment needed and to signal whether users are willing to pay for these investments, highlighting the critical need to modernize global policy frameworks on airport charges.
At the end of the day, policies on airport charges should be crafted for the benefit of the travelling public. This means ensuring that existing infrastructure is used as efficiently as possible, incentivizing the sustainable development of airport infrastructure, and enhancing connectivity to generate socio-economic benefits. You can read more on this topic in the recently released ACI World Policy Brief.
5. Social, environmental, and economic sustainability
One of the positive developments to come from the pandemic has been ACI’s and airports’ augmented focus on sustainable development, which includes social, environmental, and economic pillars. As the sector rebuilds, airports have been seizing the moment and placing a goal of sustainability at the core of their long-term strategies.
Socially, businesses are responsible for taking care of their workforce and customers. They also have an increasing commitment to supporting those living in the communities in the vicinity of airports.
Environmentally, integrating sustainability and adaptation into operations and infrastructure helps airports increase their efficiency, reduce their risk of being severely affected by climate change, and increases their resiliency to the changing operational conditions they will inevitably face.
Economically, through sustainability projects, airports can gain access to funding through government relief packages and sustainability-linked bonds. These projects will contribute to the aviation sector reaching its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and help pave the way for a sustainable future for aviation.
6. No safety and operational gaps
Emerging variants and their volatile impact on air traffic patterns and volumes will mean that the entire aviation ecosystem will have to continue to ensure that that there are no gaps in safety and operations. As such, ACI World is kicking off the new year with the release of the 2022 Runway Safety Handbook to support the development of improvements and share best practices on runway safety at airports.
Remaining agile and flexible
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ACI and airports’ priorities but together they provide a general overview of what is immediately needed. As we progress into 2022, another major focus will be preparing for the ICAO Triennial Assembly in September/October where ACI will be more active than ever in representing our members’ needs and sharing the airport perspective at a crucial juncture. As we move closer to the Assembly, we will further develop our engagement strategy and we encourage our members to be well-prepared to communicate with their State representatives or join State delegations.
While COVID-19 has been a tough adversary, we have shown that we are tougher—more than 9.54 billion vaccines have been administered around the world, and close to 4 billion people are now fully vaccinated. We know more than we did two years ago and we are better prepared to tackle future challenges—we just have to stay focused.
We will need to stay on our toes, remaining agile and flexible, as we continue to respond to the evolution of the pandemic and its impact on the sector.