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The operational and financial impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry is unprecedented. The pandemic is causing a disruption across the whole aviation supply chain. It also revealed that many aviation processes and infrastructure lack resiliency. However, dire times drive innovation, and that is not restricted to technological advancements. We can also be innovative in how we develop policies and regulations. While we focus on restarting operations and re-defining what “normal operations” are, this is an opportunity to re-think the aviation system and its resilience.
IATA and its partner, NASA Aeronautics Research Institute, are looking at the disruption caused by COVID-19 with a view of how the aviation supply chain could be recalibrated to fit the new operating environment and enable much needed system improvements. This regular communication will provide insights to system improvements and technologies that will enhance resilience and efficiency.
Future publications will provide regular up-dates about the impact of COVID-19 on aviation and insights to system improvements.
After an almost complete halt of air travel worldwide in April 2020, traffic started to pick up in May. However confidence in business travel is still lagging and the recovery is slower than expected. Border restrictions largely remain in place, or quarantine measures, which have the same effect, and international travel is almost fully halted, except within Europe where recently some restrictions have been lifted.
Government requirements and protocols for travel are subject to change based on the data available with regards to the spread or containment of the virus. Operational and safety decisions in aviation are dependent on accurate aeronautical information. Therefore, it is critical for airlines to have access to timely information related to government protocols, airport capacity, and biosafety measures.
With a high level of uncertainty related to travel demand, many airlines are finding it difficult to confirm their schedules beyond two-week cycles. This means that schedules could change, frequencies could be reduced, or aircraft capacity could increase, depending on the fluctuations in travel demand. In addition, changing consumer sentiment and purchasing behaviors may endure beyond the pandemic. A recent passenger survey conducted by IATA indicates that 41% of passenger would make their travel bookings only 0-3 days ahead. This new consumer purchasing habit could sustain beyond COVID-19. In the ‘new normal’ environment, airlines’ ability to predict travel demand could decrease. This will impact the relationship between airlines and their supply chain partners, potentially permanently altering flight planning, turnaround times, and overall network management.
Due to the number of parked aircraft in different airports, it is expected that there will be an impact on airport and runway capacity. The number of parked aircraft worldwide reached a high of 18,118 in April 2020. As airlines resume operations, they are also making assessment of which fleet type they will use beyond COVID-19.
In addition, requirements to ensure the biosafety and health of passengers, crews, and staff will add buffers to ground time and impact overall network performance. There are estimates that additional sanitation and biosafety requirements could cause up to a doubling in the amount of time passengers have to spend at airports during the crisis. The additional layers are expected to add delays or stressors to the whole aviation system. Looking at the network impact, many flights at hub airports are scheduled to ensure connections. These connections may need to be retimed as operations resume due to the new restrictions to ground capacity.
Restarting aviation will go beyond resuming operation as we know it. It will require a revisit of many of the assumptions that govern operations to identify what is still fit for purpose and what could be adapted, extended, or completely changed. Here are some considerations for airlines, our partners in the aviation supply chain, and regulators for restart and recovery;
As markets shift and businesses transform, the role of regulators and policy makers should shift to enable innovation in aviation and ensure resilience.
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Stay tuned for our next Up in the Air publication which will focus on digitization and resilience in the age of COVID-19.
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