Aviation needs ‘creative solutions’ in COVID recovery

Airports and airlines will need to be “very creative in finding new solutions” to cope with the post-COVID aviation market, a panel at Routes Reconnected has heard.

Speaking at a session focusing on returning to the skies with confidence, Berlin Airport COO Patrick Muller discussed how new digital, social distancing measures and a lack of uniformity between nations will pose significant challenges.

The most important aspect will be to “provide trust and confidence back to the travelers," said Muller.

“Processing times are being extended and space requirements have been increased by social distancing,” said Muller. “You have 100 passengers, queuing with a distance of 1.5 meters; that makes a queue of 150 meters.

“None of our airports were designed and planned for this. The main pinch points will be check-in, security screening and immigration.”

Muller added that data integration will be vital across air transport to tackle the myriad systems being proposed, and avoid a “very difficult situation for airlines, tour operators, airports and the ground handling agents.”

Fellow German business TUI Aviation also took part in the session represented by its head of ground operations and airport procurement Christophe Vanden Haute.

Vanden Haute agreed with Muller that new restrictions and measures are likely to pose great stresses on the industry.

“You can increase the number of check-in desks, but this has a cost,” he said. “And this is working now because we have low volumes, but if we go to normal volumes the number of check-in desks or self-service bag drop facilities are quite limited.

“Especially if you think about the smaller airports—that’s where I see many more constraints and limitations when [traffic] increases.”

Despite this, Vanden Haute did not believe the new restrictions will impact on turnaround times, with the majority of the delays coming at either side of the flight.

“On the ramp there is no reason to delay the aircraft or to have longer turnaround times,” he said. “More checks to be done, whether in security or measures such as temperature checks. This is what will create bottlenecks and delay.”

These administrative burdens facing airports will necessitate more digital solutions, said Changi Airport Group’s managing director of airhub development Ching Kiat Lim.

“Today, because we only have around 5% of our previous traffic naturally people are socially distanced already,” Lim said.

“But moving forward once you have different tests, different vaccines, some vaccinated passengers who are allowed to come in, it gets pretty complicated.

“And of course, our concern is that if immigration officials have to shuffle pieces of paper, look at the dates where you were vaccinated, or the date where your test was taken, that gets pretty inefficient when you scale up.”

Changi is working closely with IATA airlines to create digital solutions in which “interoperability is the keyword," Lim said.

“For the short term it’s manual, but very soon we need to digitize as much as we can in this process.”

Istanbul Airport VP aviation development Majid Khan also said the airport was working with all 54 of its airline partners to understand their operation requirements and thanks to its 90 million capacity was yet to encounter operational challenges.

“I think we are one of the lucky ones,” Khan said.

“We even have a hygiene team of 155 staff working 24 hours a day to make sure that everyone actually follows the COVID-19 measures.”

However, he agreed that a “lack of alignment in the industry” is a potential threat to customer confidence in the recovery.

“We hear news every day that various governments are considering their own COVID passes,” Khan said.

“The European Union have their own COVID pass, and let's say Asian countries have their own, I think that will be the potential next challenge for the industry.

“Because as a passengers, you might think ‘do I have the right pass, have I taken the right vaccine’, and I think that can be a potential issue.”

Photo credit: Mohamad Ali Harissi /AFP / Getty Images

Wesley Charnock

Wesley Charnock is Content Marketing Director for Aviation Week Network.