Road to recovery
Airport World provides a global snapshot of how airports have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and are planning for a brighter future.
While passenger traffic has almost ground to a halt across the world, air cargo volumes have soared at many airports in the first four months of 2020 as they handled vital goods and medical supplies needed by nations to help them combat COVID-19.
These have included Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Qatar; Ontario International Airport (ONT) and Chicago Rockford (RDF) in the US; and Moscow-Sheremetyevo (SVO) in Europe.
DOH reported a 4.7% upturn in cargo volumes during the first quarter of 2020 as countries turned to air cargo to ensure the rapid and safe delivery of medical equipment and supplies needed in the battle against COVID-19.
In early May it issued a statement saying: “During the past month the cargo operator [Qatar Airways] has worked closely with governments and NGOs to transport over 100,000 tonnes of medical and aid supplies to impacted regions around the world on both scheduled and charter services, the equivalent of roughly 1,000 fully loaded Boeing 777 freighters.
“Freight charters are being operated to multiple countries including China, India, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Poland, United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.”
Indeed, in the last week of April, Qatar Airways Cargo set a new record operating 78 freighter flights and 69 freight-only passenger flights, a total of 147 dedicated cargo flights in a day to support countries with relief aid amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
In the US, ONT stated that successive double digit rises in cargo volumes – its tonnage soared by 22% and 26% in March and April – underscored “the critical role ONT and Southern California’s Inland Empire plays in managing and safeguarding the nation’s supply chain”.
“Our airport is the heart of one of the most vital supply chain networks in the country, and during this time of crisis, it has become an even more vital trans-shipment hub for many household supplies ordered online,” said Ontario International Airport Authority’s CEO, Mark Thorpe.
The downturn in traffic has allowed some airports to more easily carry out routine maintenance, bring forward construction programmes or add the finishing touches to major projects.
Amsterdam Schiphol, for example, says that although COVID-19 is affecting the timing of some construction projects and maintenance work, the present reduction in aircraft movements and passengers has freed up time and space for it to carry out other projects to improve efficiency in the terminal and on the apron and taxiways.
These include scheduled maintenance to the drop-off road, completed in May 2020; increasing the number of security lanes in Departure Hall 4 and adding a new CT scanner now instead of September 2020; Bringing forward the maintenance work to the drinking water supply in Departure Hall 3 and Departure Lounge 3; and upgrading three aircraft stands.
In Austria, the €500 million expansion of Vienna Airport continues, with the gateway’s joint CEO, Julian Jäger, recently sharing a post on social media showing the ongoing transformation of Terminal 2.
The facelift is part of the Austrian airport’s ambitious development programme which will see also see it add a 70,000sqm extension to Terminal 3 by the end of 2023.
Posting on Linkedin, Jäger notes: “We build for the future! There will be life after hashtag#corona and we are preparing vigorously on all levels.
“The restructuring of our Terminal 2 is in full swing and will bring new, centralised security checks, new lounges and more convenience for our passengers. I look forward to the opening, which we will celebrate in less than a year from now!”
As well as revamping Terminal 2 and the airport’s Pier East, a new 70,000sqm building known simply as ‘T3 Southern Enlargement’ is also part of the airport’s expansion and renovation programme which is expected to last until 2023.
Meanwhile, in Australia, Brisbane Airport (BNE) recently celebrated the ‘practical completion’ of its new parallel runway.
Airport CEO, Gert-Jan de Graaff, recognised that while completion of runway was a milestone event for the Queensland gateway, it was just the beginning of the next phase of the airport’s development for operator, Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC).
“Now more than ever, it is crucial that we have the infrastructure and mechanisms in place to allow our great city and state to recover from the COVID-19 global pandemic, and Brisbane Airport, and this new runway will play a strong part in that,” said de Graaff.
Trialling new technologies
Others are using the time to look at new technologies, processes and procedures the industry might have to adopt to allow aviation to bounce back when government’s finally lift travel restrictions and commercial passenger flights can effectively begin again.
Canberra Airport in Australia, for example, has announced that it has become the first Australian gateway to install new temperature scanning equipment in readiness for when passenger numbers return.
The initiative, according to head of aviation, Michael Thomson, shows that Canberra Airport is open for business and a safe and secure place for passengers to use.
“Passengers departing Canberra arrive at airport security as usual and as they pass through security a camera takes their image and records their temperature in real-time,” explains Thomson.
“If a passenger has a body temperature over 37.8oC they will be attended by a registered nurse immediately. The nurse will provide a face mask, offer to take their temperature again, and ask the passenger to participate in a questionnaire.
“If a passenger continues to display signs of high temperature or fever, then the airline they intend to travel with will be informed. This way both the individual passenger and the airlines will be best informed to make sensible decisions about whether the passenger should be travelling at this time.
“This is one measure in a suite of measures we are employing through and beyond COVID-19 – including extra cleaning, hand-sanitiser being available for all, social distancing measures within the terminal and more.”
Elsewhere, in Asia-Pacific, Hong Kong International Airport was one of the first major gateways in the world to apply the latest disinfection technologies, including disinfection channels, antimicrobial coating and autonomous cleaning robots to protect passengers and staff from COVID-19 infection.
The airport has effectively become the test bed for CLeanTech, a full-body disinfection channel facility, which is being trialled during live operations at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA).
According to Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK), passengers using the facility “will have a temperature check before entering an enclosed channel for the 40-second disinfection and sanitising procedures”.
It notes that the interior surface of the channel is equipped with antimicrobial coating which can remotely kill virus and bacteria on human bodies and clothing by using the technologies of photocatalyst and ‘nano needles’.
‘Sanitising spray’ is also applied for instant disinfection, says AAHK, adding that the channel is kept under negative pressure
to prevent cross-contamination between the outside and inside environment.
Currently, the facility is designated for use by staff who take part in public health and quarantine duties at the airport in relation to arriving passengers.
Meanwhile, AAHK is conducting a pilot test of applying antimicrobial coating on all passenger facilities. An invisible coating to destroy germs, bacteria and viruses is applied to high-touch surfaces in the terminal, including handles and seats of Automated People Movers and passenger buses, smart check-in kiosks and check-in counters, toilets, seating area in the terminal, baggage trolleys, elevator buttons, and more.
After completion of the trial in May, the airport will consider implementing it as a long term disinfection measure.
And that’s not all, as AAHK reveals that autonomous cleaning robots are also deployed to ensure the thorough disinfection
of public areas and passenger facilities.
Called Intelligent Sterilization Robots, each one is equipped with ultra violet light steriliser and air steriliser, and deployed round-the-clock in public toilets and key operating areas in the terminal building.
According to AAHK, the robot can move around autonomously and sterilise up to 99.99% of bacteria in its vicinity, including both the air and object surfaces, in just 10 minutes.
AAHK’s deputy director for service delivery, Steven Yiu, said: “The safety and wellbeing of airport staff and passengers are always our first priority.
“Although air traffic has been impacted by the pandemic, we spare no effort in ensuring that the airport is a safe environment for all users. We will continue to look into new measures to enhance our cleaning and disinfection work.”
On the other side of the world in Europe, London’s Heathrow Airport began thermal detection trials in Terminal 2’s Immigration Hall in May as beleaguered Britain stepped up its battle against the coronavirus.
It says that the tests are part of a wider programme looking at technology that could reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19 in the future.
The UK hub cites another key motivation as being the desire to drive forward the development of a Common International Standard by trialling technologies and processes that reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission globally.
The technologies under review include UV sanitation, facial recognition thermal screening equipment and contactless security procedures.
Airport CEO, John Holland-Kaye says: “Aviation is the cornerstone of the UK economy, and to restart the economy, the government needs to help restart aviation.”
Another airport to begin testing passengers for COVID-19 is Quito International Airport, which has installed 10 temporary testing stations to assess all passengers entering the country on international repatriation flights in an initiative organised by Ecuador’s National Emergency Operations Committee (COE in Spanish).
Passengers on an Aeromexico charter flight from Mexico City were the first to be use the new testing process, which Quiport reports proved to be a smooth process for all 123 onboard the flight.
Andrew O’Brian, president and CEO of airport operator, Corporación Quiport, says: “We fully understand that our role is to implement the sanitary measures and controls ordered by the COE and provide the facilities within our reach so that they can be carried out in an orderly and safe manner.
“Once the COE ordered the application of COVID-19 rapid tests for repatriated citizens to Ecuador, we adapted and equipped an area for health personnel to take samples and in a safe, efficient and comfortable manner for the passenger.”