: 10-09-20 08:26

Challenges aplenty for airports to debate at SMART Airports Conference

The CEOs of a handful of European airport operators talk about the challenges of COVID-19 ahead of the upcoming SMART Airports, Cities & Regions Conference and Exhibition in Vienna later this month.

Uncertainty over how long the current downturn in global aviation will last; the lack of a co-ordinated global response to the pandemic; and reassuring the public that it is safe to fly are some of the key issues for airport bosses today, according to the airport leaders we talked to ahead of the event.

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André Schneider, director general of Geneva Airport, says: The biggest issue we are currently facing is the uncertainty and non-alignment of the measures against the further spread of the COVID.

These decisions are impossible to plan for and have huge impacts on the evolution of the traffic. They also contribute to the continued lack of confidence of our passengers.

Addressing the COVID-19 challenges currently faced by airports across the globe, Alexander Zinell, CEO of Fraport Greece, says: The biggest COVID-19 related issues are the current and ongoing loss of revenue; potential long-term disruption of supply-demand mechanism (air travel, hospitality, gastronomy); and the behavioural changes of passengers both in the leisure and business segment.

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All of these factors are outside the control of airports. Unfortunately, there is little that our industry can do other than reacting and pre-empting the future normality.

Are the worlds governments doing enough to help airports and aviation through the current crisis? Zinell says: I have not seen particularly useful measures implemented by governments so far.

Most have reacted by implementing broad, crude travel restrictions. At a later stage, taxpayers money is poured into the sector, mostly guided towards airlines. These measures address symptoms but not the disease.

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Talking about his airports response to pandemic, Krakows director of aviation and commercial services, Paweł Galiak, says: During the lockdown we were able to quickly close the terminals and put our staff on furlough. With easing of the travel restrictions and restart of flights, we all have to adapt to new realities.

A reality in which we are operating on approximately 30% to 40% of 2019 traffic with a need to ensure the highest possible standard of services to demonstrate the implementation of various sanitary and preventing measures, which comes with staffing and additional budgets.

There is often a lack of co-ordination between respective measures being implemented by airports and states, especially with regard to the quarantine measures, that can have a devastating impact on passenger confidence.

However, there are a number of initiatives at ACI, EASA or ICAO level that support the implementation of align risk-based, practical measures that can improve the restart process, while providing reassurance to travellers. I am glad that more and more airports are using these recommendations.

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He adds: Until the pandemic is contained, it will be difficult for the aviation business to thrive as before. In the meantime, I believe that the industry can implement several protocols, as I said earlier, in a co-ordinated manner so the passenger know exactly what to expect at the departure airport and at the destination.

This knowledge is currently the latest element of customer experience, which is primarily influenced by sense of feeling safe, cleanliness of terminal infrastructure and ambiance of the airport during COVID-19 time.

In addition, the implementation of non-intrusive, quick COVID-19 test would certainly be one of the important measures that could restore passenger confidence in air travel.

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While Salzburg Airport CEO, Bettina Ganghofer, notes: The biggest challenge is to determine the duration of this crisis and how fast the economy and the aviation industry can recover.

How many airlines will survive and, with how much of the previous capacity will they operate? How long will it take for passengers to trust air travel the way they did before COVID-19. How will new border health control impact air travel?

As a comparatively small airport, our focus is on keeping our staff. Not only are they family, but they have accumulated a wealth of knowledge, which would be very difficult and costly to re-establish.

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What is Salzburg Airport doing in terms of ensuring that it survives COVID-19 and is in the best position to handle the return of passengers when the pandemic is over? Ganghofer says: Short-term we are rethinking our organisational set up, looking into cost savings and so on, the classic approach.

We have already started to think about the future and changed our priorities with regard to investments, especially pushing ahead those concerning automation and digitalisation. We are also trying to speed up necessities [like a new terminal] due to the fact that I believe there will be a financial draught in the future.

All will be speaking at the SMART Airports, Cities & Regions Conference and Exhibition, which takes place in Vienna on September 28-30, 2020. Visit www.smart-airports.com/vienna to find out more information about the event.


: Airport World

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