Industry Voices: Moving Beyond Covid?

Industry Voices: Moving Beyond Covid?

Leaders from across the industry give their assessment on the current state of aviation, looking ahead to a challenging summer and priorities for ATM.

Martin: "After what has been a tumultuous two and a half years, it finally feels like we are emerging from the long shadow of the Covid crisis.

I almost don’t want to commit that to writing after what have been several false dawns, but the truth is we’re now seeing the sustained return of traffic not experienced since 2019. The latest forecasts suggest Europe’s summer traffic will be close to 85% of what we saw before the pandemic, with flight numbers even peaking above pre-Covid levels at times.

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People want to fly again and that is cause for celebration. It is of course not without its difficulties too. Scaling back up to cope with those peaks in demand is not an easy thing to do and we are seeing the resulting pressure manifest itself in sometimes very visible but also less obvious ways too. This will be a challenging summer.

The latest forecasts suggest Europe’s summer traffic will be close to 85% of what we saw before the pandemic, with flight numbers even peaking above pre-Covid levels at times.

Martin Rolfe, CEO, NATS

But what does the rest of our industry think? We have asked leaders representing the full spectrum of the industry to offer their thoughts on the immediate and longer-term health of aviation. While there are some differing priorities, I’m pleased to see a lot of commonality too.

The past two years has shown us how strong we can be when we collaborate, and while there will no doubt be some turbulence ahead, that will see us through to clearer skies, I am sure."

Question 1: How would you describe the current state of the industry?

Simon Hocquard photo

Simon: "To understand where we are now, you have to understand where we have come from. Air traffic – the very lifeblood of our industry – stopped. And yet we survived.

How did we do that? Data from CANSO’s Global Benchmarking Workgroup indicates that the majority of ANSPs adjusted their structure, shifted priorities and pursued digitalisation. In other words, innovation and agility.

We even managed to keep an eye on the future. Just 4% of ANSPs completely stopped their CAPEX programmes in 2020 because we knew that traffic would recover and that capacity had to keep pace.

So, despite everything that has happened I believe our industry showed extraordinary resilience. Yes, the pandemic accelerated change. But when that change is positive – enacted in a transparent manner with the full collaboration of partners – it means we are improving and in better shape than before. CANSO’s Complete Air Traffic System Global Council typifies the foundation for success that we are building. It is producing a roadmap for the skies of 2045."

Air traffic – the very lifeblood of our industry – stopped. And yet we survived.

Simon Hocquard, CANSO

Sean Doyle photo

Sean: "Aviation has been one of the worst-hit industries by the pandemic and we face a steep recovery path from the deepest crisis in our history.

At British Airways we're completely focused on three priorities: our customers, supporting the biggest recruitment drive in our history and increasing our operational resilience."

At British Airways we're completely focused on three priorities: our customers, supporting the biggest recruitment drive in our history and increasing our operational resilience.

Sean Doyle, British Airways

James Goodwin photo

James: "The industry is getting back on its feet after a devastating two years. The aviation sector was one of the first to be hit by the pandemic, it was one of the hardest hit and will be one of the last to recover however, thanks to the incredible efforts of our airport teams we have been made to resume both domestic and international travel smoothly and safely.

The recent Easter school holidays saw significant increases in passengers coming through our airports which was a great signal the community is regaining the confidence to travel again."

Karen Dee photo

Karen: "With passengers returning in volume, airports are optimistic about the summer. We are seeing a steady recovery, though bookings are coming through quite late suggesting that there is still some uncertainty among consumers about booking travel.

We hope that as 2022 progresses, that confidence increases and people start to plan further ahead again. Amongst the bookings we are seeing a lot of people finally looking to take a trip that was planned during the pandemic and postponed due to travel restrictions.

This is to some extent masking any impact of the cost of living crisis on consumer confidence and so the outlook for the winter season 2022/23 is a little less clear. "

Question 2: How optimistic are you now about the recovery from Covid and what challenges remain?

Simon Hocquard, CANSO Chief Executive

Simon Hocquard

Simon: "There are real signs that the recovery is gathering pace. It highlights just how well individuals and organisations have done in the face of adversity. We have been resolute against the toughest of challenges, learned from our experiences and grown stronger.

It is just as well because there are some big challenges ahead. The two that spring immediately to mind are sustainability and safely integrating new airspace users. Those two challenges alone will ensure that we keep pushing the boundaries of innovation and agility.

And we know there will be another shock to the system, whether it is a new variant or something completely different. We can’t know what the shock will be, but we can make sure we are as prepared as possible for whatever the future will hold.

Sean Doyle

Sean Doyle

Sean: "We’ve started our climb-back to 2019 levels and we know that our customers want to travel.

Demand is recovering with forward bookings looking strong for the summer.

There is no denying that as we’ve ramped our schedule back up that we’ve faced challenges, some more in our control than others.

This has been the case for other airlines and airports who are experiencing many similar issues including Covid related colleague sickness, airport resourcing and Covid related paperwork and document checks still in place in many countries, meaning it takes customers longer at check-in.

We fly to more than 65 countries and have one of the most extensive international scheduled airline route networks together with our joint business, codeshare and franchise partners and we’re taking the right action now to build more resilience and to give our customers confidence when they book to travel with us."

James Goodwin

James Goodwin

James: "Travel has changed since the pandemic and that is most certainly a challenge for both airports and passengers.

Despite the challenges, airports have achieved a lot since borders have reopened. They have managed to facilitate a sudden turnaround of services, changing routes, aircraft types as well as new health or government protocols and procedures, often at very short notice.

Passenger numbers are still about 15 per cent below pre-Covid levels domestically and international numbers are at just 20% of pre-pandemic levels. International passenger numbers will take some time to recover as we first need to attract many of those global airlines back to Australia.

Traveller confidence will only come back to normal once the airlines and passengers have full trust that governments won’t suddenly shut borders.

James Goodwin, Australian Airport Association

Karen Dee

Karen Dee

Karen: "Obviously, the rapid return of passengers after the restrictions fell away in February and March this year has meant recruitment of staff has not always been able to keep up with the increased numbers of travellers.

While the vast majority of passengers has been able to travel with minimal disruption over Easter and since then, airports have not always been able to deliver the services passengers have come to expect from us as a sector pre-pandemic.

More broadly, we are keeping a close eye on the UK’s route recovery. The most profitable routes, particularly to holiday destinations, have returned quickly. However, many businesses across the economy rely on aviation for their own success so it is essential that we get destinations that serve them and their exports back alongside leisure routes.

On the long-haul side, there remain significant restrictions in place in a number of countries that are deterring travel or make travel impossible. Long-haul route recovery is thus expected to take longer.

The UK and devolved governments can play an important role in our passenger and route recovery.

The AOA recently published a report - Reconnecting the UK – recovering aviation connectivity, in which we set out the importance of government support for route recovery."

Question 3: What do you think are now the priorities for the industry in the short and medium term?

Simon Hocquard, CANSO Chief Executive

Simon Hocquard

Simon: "We must keep on being adaptable, sustainable and resilient. In particular, we have to be ready for the speed of change. Because it is only going to get faster.

Sustainability is now essential to every business. CANSO is introducing its GreenATM Programme, an environmental accreditation programme that provides air ANSPs with an independent, industry-endorsed accreditation of their environmental efforts. And we must safely integrate drones and commercial space traffic under a total traffic management framework.

I would also argue innovation is essential. Organisations that embrace new technologies have been the winners throughout the pandemic. Look at remote towers and their ability to keep operational teams separated and safe while lowering costs and maintaining services.

We have to explore and harness the benefits of automation, artificial intelligence and digitisation.

Sean Doyle

Sean Doyle

Sean: "One of the key priorities is building back sustainably. Our customers, our colleagues and our investors care about sustainability, and so do we.

As the industry re-builds, we’re all focused on and committed to a sustainable recovery – despite the immense financial challenges we’ve all faced and will continue to face for some time to come. Because there is no greater priority.

As part of our BA Better World programme, we have committed to putting sustainability at our heart. With BA Better World we are starting that dialogue with our customers that gives us the opportunity to build awareness about aviation climate impacts and the opportunities to tackle that in the short, medium and longer term. BA Better World gives both responsibility and an opportunity to inform and engage our customers in a conversation about climate.

We are committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and have a series of short, medium and long term initiatives to get us there including investing in the development of sustainable aviation fuels, improving our operational efficiency both on the ground and in the air, flying more fuel efficient aircraft and investing in zero emissions hydrogen-powered aircraft."

One of the key priorities is building back sustainably. Our customers, our colleagues and our investors care about sustainability, and so do we.

Sean Doyle, British Airways

James Goodwin

James Goodwin

James: "Our priority is to address the workforce shortages and support those entering the aviation industry to ensure we continue to have a high level of skilled staff. This is vital to retain our great reputation for safe and secure travel.

We also will continue to ensure passengers feel safe and confident to travel again and help everyone to enjoy getting back to normal. As always, advocacy is vital for our airport members to ensure their voices are heard among decision makers so they are aware of our issues."

Karen Dee

Karen Dee

Karen: "For the immediate term, our focus must be on re-building our teams to ensure we can provide the excellent service passengers have come to expect. We are making good progress on this so I am very hopeful.

After that, industry will expect Government to support our recovery by providing a positive, supportive policy and fiscal environment which allows UK aviation to re-claim its place as world leaders in aviation."

Question 4: What should ANSPs be focusing on to support their customers?

Simon Hocquard, CANSO Chief Executive

Simon Hocquard

Simon: "The focus on our customers’ needs has to be laser like. But to get to the right solutions and services, we need to be inclusive. No single organisation has all the answers so bringing different perspectives and expertise together is vital.

Rather than silos of information, systems will need to talk to each other in a standardised manner. If data is shared, then all aviation stakeholders will benefit."

Sean Doyle

Sean Doyle

Sean: "We must continue to tackle air traffic control and environmental inefficiency and we’re committed to working closely with NATS to help make our airspace operations more efficient.

One of our key asks of Governments is to progress the Single European Sky programme to improve air traffic management where we believe that emissions could be improved by 10% by moving to best practice air space management – equivalent to 18 million tons of CO2 saving every year for Europe."

James Goodwin

James Goodwin

James: "It is essential that Airservices Australia continues to engage and consult with industry on the reliability and flexibility of their services.

It is also important all those involved in air traffic management acknowledge the role they play in the aviation sector’s social licence. Working with industry on effective airspace design and managing community concerns will be to everyone’s benefit."

Karen Dee

Karen Dee

Karen: "One immediate opportunity is airspace modernisation. We must not let work to date to be undermined as a result of the pandemic. The UK Government helpfully provided funds to help airports complete phase 2 of the process, but there are some risks to phase 3.

We are continuing to work with the DfT and others to see what the possibilities are for some limited funding to help airports complete phase 3, at which point we would expect them to be able to pick up the process again themselves."

One immediate opportunity is airspace modernisation. We must not let work to date to be undermined as a result of the pandemic.

Karen Dee, Airport Operators Association

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