Up In The Air Blog
Restart & Resilience of Air Navigation Services post COVID-19
2 September 2020

Recalibrating Capacity

Volume III - In collaboration with:

NASA Aeronautics Research Institute

New Stressors in the System

The aviation system includes layers of organizations, processes and technologies, all working together according to globally-agreed standards dating back more than 75 years to the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Airlines, air navigation service providers, safety regulators, airports, ground handlers, and OEMs, all collaborate to ensure that each flight takes off and arrives at its destination safely.

With the emergence of COVID-19, new dimensions and participants such as health authorities have been added. New requirements for health and sanitation measures and social distancing at airports, in addition to additional cleaning measures for aircraft, have added time and complexity to the aviation system. In response, among other things, airlines are adding buffers to aircraft turn-around times.

Future Capacity

In the new normal environment, ensuring efficient use of capacity at airports and airspace to support growth of air traffic is paramount. In the short term, the large number of aircraft that have been parked at commercial airports will have an impact on runways and taxiways, reducing capacity. Physical distancing requirements and additional health measures for staff and passengers may also impact passenger throughput and ground capacity.

 

Under these circumstances, maintaining and improving the efficiency of the aviation supply chain depends on re-thinking current and future requirements and the available capacity. Transformation and recalibration of the supply chain goes beyond looking at systems and technologies. It will require performance-based regulations and close collaboration among the different actors.

Investments in ATM and airports will be dependent on the availability of resources. Investments in new systems and infrastructure must remain cost-effective. It is also important to prioritize investments and ensure that the industry not only ‘survives’ the pandemic, but also takes time to assess what future infrastructure will be required. This is especially important given that pre-COVID utilization of capacity and ground infrastructure was already considered not sustainable for the industry’s growth.

Another aspect of required resources is the skill sets that are needed to support today’s and future operations. COVID-19 has accelerated the retirement of many experts that have helped shape the industry. At the same time, the types of skills required to support future systems will continue to evolve with new technologies and levels of automation coming to play.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also changing consumer sentiment and behaviours, and many of those changes could endure beyond the pandemic. These new consumer purchasing habits likely will transform industries, including air travel. Advance flight bookings gave airlines predictability and enable them to plan their operation with all the actors of the supply chain, but today passengers are booking much closer to departure. In the ‘new normal’ airlines’ ability to predict travel demand could decrease. The changing dynamics with the flying public will impact the relationship between airlines and the aviation supply chain.

The COVID-19 pandemic also has highlighted the different uses for technology and digital applications to off-set reduced accessibility by people. The need for remote access to critical assets whether for security, inspection or disinfection increased. At the same time, plans for future use of new types of aircraft for the transportation of people and goods are pressing forward. From electrical vertical take-off and landing aircraft (manned and unmanned), to hydrogen powered aircraft, to commercial space launches. 

Given the time required to move from proof of concept to industry provisions governing new operations and technologies, we need to look to the future as we continue working on the restart of the industry. It will require all stakeholders to work together to arrive at a harmonized infrastructure framework that will meet the evolving demands of current and emerging airspace users in a performance-based and cost-effective way, while ensuring safety and efficiency.

Insights & Considerations

  • Innovation and transformation are not only about technologies, but also about policy and regulation. During COVID-19 industry worked together with regulatory bodies to enable transformation in operations, where needed. Facilitating carriage of cargo in the cabin of passenger aircraft, and expediting flight permissions for repatriation and cargo flights are a few examples of such efforts.
  • We need to make better use of local trials to drive regulations and ensure a performance-based approach for continual system improvement. Collaboration with research bodies and academic institutes will enable the industry to better understand technological capabilities and develop policies that are fit for purpose.
  • In the ‘new environment’ the structure of the airports and how flights are planned and managed may be difficult to maintain. Do we need to re-calibrate the supply chain and agree on new operational frameworks?
  • Future systems will be based on human intelligence and artificial intelligence working together. Remote technology and remote working are connecting the unconnected and enabling diversity in the workforce. As the aviation industry prepares for the future, we need to identify future skills requirements and new approaches for training and licensing.
  • Viable air transport will be realized with effective implementation of globally agreed standards. We need more consistent collaboration, including with non-aviation stakeholders and across the different modes of transportation, to accelerate implementation at all levels.

Get Involved

If you have any question or would like to share your ideas with us, please send an email to infrastructure@iata.org

Next Publication

Stay tuned for our next Up in the Air publication which will focus on re-calibrating capacity in the new operating environment of COVID-19.


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