Ebow Quayson’s thoughts … Aviation matters and COVID-19 wahala

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That COVID-19 has disrupted our way of living and economies around the world is an understatement. Every sector/industry has been affected anyhow you look at it.

One such sector badly hit is aviation which employs millions of people and acts as the central nervous system of international business and leisure. The industry as a whole is struggling to be above water with airlines, airports, and ground handling firms watch in despair as revenue lines dry up. To give a real sense of how bad the situation is, just check out the headlines below:

  1. 700 American Airlines pilots have agreed to take early retirement
  2. Qantas Australia has put 20,000 staff on mandatory leave
  3. IAG(parent company of British Airways) will cut off 12,000 of its 42,000 strong workforce
  4. Lithuanian International Airport in Vilnius has been converted into a drive –in cinema
  5. Spice Jet in India will not pay pilots for April and May
  6. Airbus announced EURO 481million losses in Q1 2020
  7. Lufthansa group is working on a EURO 9billion bailout from the German government
  8. Ethiopian Airlines has so far lost USD550million in revenue because of international flight restrictions
  9. RwandAir slashes 65% of staff salaries to cut down on losses
  10. Sir Richard Branson has offered his Caribbean Island as collateral against a loan from the UK government to sustain Virgin Atlantic

The situation looks bleak per the examples above and the implications are obvious:

a) Job losses especially for cabin crew, third party contractors and ground crews

b) Revenue losses for countries like Ethiopia, UAE and Singapore who have positioned their international airports as transport hubs for their respect regions – no landing fees, car parking lot fees, restaurants, VIP lounge charges etc

c) The major aircraft manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and Bombardier to mention a few are stuck with aircraft they can’t sell with earlier orders by airlines being reduced or cancelled

d) Allied industries/sectors that provide support to airlines like aviation fuel, catering etc are also badly affected

e) Airlines will likely run at a loss in the immediate future even when COVID-19 is over because people will be too sacred to travel and because of social distancing, side-by-side seating will be cancelled leading to half empty flights

f) Travel time will now increase because of mandatory health checks prior to pre-boarding procedures. Indeed, Emirates have started rapid COVID-19 tests as part of boarding procedures for limited flights currently. All passengers need to now arrive 3 hours to flight time to complete medical and security checks

g) Airlines are now burdened with task of looking for storage sites for idle aircraft, sometimes even outside their country of origin. British Airways for instance has moved some of its Airbus A380 fleet to storage in France

h) Airlines may be forced to hike fees to make up for limited capacity just to survive

i) Washrooms in planes may be no go areas for most people – but a necessary evil

Lessons learnt and way forward

  • Airlines need to have a fair mix of passenger and cargo/freight fleets. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, cargo demand has risen dramatically which means airlines like Qatar, Ethiopian, Emirates and Turkish who have a good air cargo capacity are the ones to sail above the stormy waters
  • An alternative for airlines is to buy aircraft that can be easily converted to cargo at very short notice. Airbus claims that the A350 series can be converted to cargo in 2 days. This should be a factor in considering long haul aircraft purchases for example.
  • Airports need to be designed to find alternate revenue lines aside traditional/obvious ones ; the Vilnius airport drive –in cinema is very interesting
  • Aircraft manufacturers need to look at cabin seating again in view of social distancing. Going forward, single aisle cabins may not be suitable for travel- so your popular Boeing 737, Airbus A320, Dash 8 and ATR -72 may see early retirement or reduced demand by airlines
  • In terms of passenger safety/health, aircrafts may have to be disinfected DAILY after very flight leading to delays
  • Again on passenger safety, there may be the need to increase the number of washroom layouts in aircrafts for obvious reasons
  • Airlines need to look at the way they couch aircraft purchase agreements going forward in the light of acts of nature like pandemics
  • For workers in the airline industry, they may have to look at alternative jobs as back up to make a living for the immediate future

Conclusion

The effects of COVID-19 on air transport has a far reaching impact on economies, individuals and businesses. Aside private domestic/regional airlines like Africa World Airlines and Passion Air, Ghana is yet to re-launch her national airline. Lessons learnt from the COVID-19 should feature strongly in strategy and organisational structure of the new airline, while airport management also looks to re-strategize revenue lines and operational procedures in the light of events around the world.

The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho once said “Traveling Is Not Always a Question of Money, But Of Courage”. At hindsight, Paulo appears to have seen ahead of COVID-19 or is he a soothsayer?

Credit/Sources: Simple Flying, CNN and BBC

The author is an avid aircraft enthusiast and has over 21 years of banking experience. You can reach him on [email protected]

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