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Bouncing back better


Duncan Hand, Siemens’ business development manager for digital airports, considers how aviation can navigate its way through today’s turbulence.

In the last 15 years, we have witnessed the disruption of many industries. The hotel industry by Airbnb, transportation by Uber and retail by Amazon. The aviation industry has now been disrupted by a virus.

What makes this disruption unique is the speed and scale of its growth, which forced a near total shutdown of the world’s airports within two months of its outbreak across the globe.

The pandemic has created a massive challenge for airport owners and operators. But within this chaos comes a chance to develop greater efficiencies and explore new opportunities.

As regional economies restart, aviation will be part of this recovery. The initial stages of recovery will be led by domestic and regional travel, with long-haul being the last sector of the aviation sector to restart.

Cargo will play a leading role in the economic recovery. Global supply chains were increasingly stretched in the global shutdown. Airports will need to be able to open profitably with reduced passenger loads and a strong emphasis on cargo.

The SARS epidemic of 2003 resulted in a U-shaped demand curve, with travel recovering five to seven months after the peak of the epidemic. Due to the widespread nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recovery in demand is likely to be somewhat slower this time around.

However, the aviation industry should expect that passenger numbers will initially recover and then resume growth. In order to prepare for this, here are some steps airport owners and operators should consider:

Investing in operational efficiencies

In the short-term, airports should invest in operational efficiency, making their operations more resilient. This will enable stronger profitability during the economic recovery, which governments will strongly encourage with stimulus and infrastructure projects. on cash flow and profitability. Smarter maintenance strategies will allow issues to be prioritised and funding to be allocated to the core business operations.

Mitigating risks of further spread of the virus

Protecting the health and safety of travellers and staff is a high priority for airport operators as they strive to minimise any risks caused by the spread of the virus.

The introduction of temperature screening and health declarations may become the norm as the industry restarts. Airports should invest in the right technology to ensure they can still provide a seamless experience for passengers and staff.

A chance to drive sustainability

The aviation industry’s contribution to global emissions is undeniable. Simultaneously, airport expansions have significant environmental risks including noise, carbon emissions, air quality, landscape, biodiversity and water.

With most airports today operating at limited capacity, owners and operators alike should seize this opportunity to conduct energy audits. This will highlight consumption patterns and identify Facility Improvement Measures (FIMS).

FIMS related to lighting, HVAC systems or other utilities can allow for significant cost savings as airports strive to reduce their OPEX. Catania (CTA) in Italy and Dubai International (DXB) in the UAE are shining examples of how efforts made in sustainability has helped improve the bottom line.

Airports and economies that react quickly and can ramp back up as passenger demand recovers will emerge the strongest from the pandemic.

Aviation has a strong future, and the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate changes in the aviation business. As always, the nimble and responsive airports will be the ones in the best position to rise and grow in the coming recovery.

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