With signs that aviation restrictions are slowly lifting in some regions of the world, airlines and airports are cautiously resuming passenger flights. But what steps need to be taken by airports and airlines before air travel returns to normal?
What are the details?
Airlines are enthusiastic to get back to what they do best: flying passengers across continents and around the globe. However, while carriers and airports are excited to be serving patrons as soon as possible, passengers will need to see some crucial changes before they are confident enough to fly again.
An unfortunate parallel is how air travel changed after 9/11 in the United States. Airports implemented new security checkpoints, and airlines incorporated new safety procedures to ensure the events couldn’t be repeated. It was only once these protocols were properly established that passengers flocked back to the skies.
Carriers and airports will again need to establish trust with passengers. This can be achieved by taking preventative biosecurity measures, and by significantly improving the system of screening and tracing diseases and viruses.
What will airlines and airports need to do to establish passenger confidence?
To do this, airports and airlines will need to invest in technology, infrastructure, and materials.
They will need to consider the following:
- Temperature checks at immigration checkpoints, and when passengers have disembarked at an airport.
- Mandatory contact tracing by airlines to ensure that passengers can be contacted in the case of an outbreak.
- PPE (personal protection equipment) for staff and crew members. Some equipment (masks and Antibacterial Gel, for example) needs to be available for passengers.
- Sanitizer stations for crew and passengers to clean hands.
- Social distancing within terminals and during boarding. Gone are the days of boarding groups of densely packed passengers.
The consensus about social distancing onboard aircraft is still under debate, with IATA ruling that airlines don’t need to follow it. The Australian carrier Qantas declared that if they did follow government social distancing guidelines onboard its aircraft, flights would cost ten times more and only carry tens of passengers.
There is also a discussion of mandatory health certificates for all international boarding passengers to ensure that they approved by a doctor before they fly. This would be the bridge between different COVID-19 free bubbles, such as Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan.
Will this be easy to implement?
Eways Aviation, a commercial aviation services company (spare parts distribution, AOG support, airport services), highlighted that many airports and airlines are not yet prepared for returning passenger numbers.
“This unexpected lockdown decision did not allow many companies to anticipate procedures and make the appropriate preparations,” says Alain Tchale, CEO of Eways Aviation.
“Today, the resumption of activities are on the horizon, [airports and airlines] must quickly purchase biosecurity protection against the spread of Covid-19 to ensure the health and safety of passengers, crews, and ground staff.”
The problem is that many of these airports and airlines may be facing a supply shortage, and will need to source a secure supply of personal protection equipment. Without these critical components, it is unlikely that they will be able to restore customer confidence.
The silver lining of the lockdown coming to an end is that it is not happening simultaneously everywhere. Some airlines will be able to put these steps in place without straining supply lines, as certain regions are further down the road operational recovery than others.
What do you think of this story? Are airlines prepared for the return to service? Let us know in the comments.