Could Covid-19 be a gamechanger for the Aviation industry?

Covid-19 could be the most abrupt shock to the global economy in decades, with aviation arguably being the most disrupted industry. The future of aviation has never been so uncertain. However, from today’s stories and lessons learned, the industry must commit to evolve and renew. Players in the market who recognise this wind of change and opportunity for innovation will recover earlier and succeed faster.

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“I hope you are safe and healthy”. Like many of the messages we send and receive these days, this is how I started a chat with my friend Roberta. On the 25th of March, in the middle of Coronavirus crisis, she travelled back home from JFK with one of the rescue flights that the Italian Government, together with Alitalia, offered to repatriate Italian citizens.


A different journey

“Roberta, how was your journey?”.

“Well, JFK was so empty. Someone told me that it seemed like the day after 9/11. On the flight, everyone had a mask, gloves and used the hand sanitizer, which they either brought from home or received from Alitalia. The flight seemed longer than usual. The good masks don’t allow you to breath well and it’s hard to have them around your mouth and nose for 10 hours.”

“I can only imagine. So, what happened when you landed?”.

“It felt as if I had arrived in a country facing a war. There were police, the army, first aid staff, red cross operators and so on…Fiumicino has just one terminal in operation and there was a long queue for my flight connection to Milano Malpensa. However, considering the situation I felt safe. The airport has put in place measurements to keep a social distance between passengers, also during police controls and boarding. In Malpensa, it felt surreal but thanks to the good job of the airport management, passengers felt safe.

What could the future look like?

These days we cannot stop thinking about how airports will look like once the world has recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic, and how passengers will experience their journeys. Will we ever go back to “normal “?

Social distancing is already a term that society is getting used to… We need to expect a “new norm”. The world we used to know is not the one we will return to.

After 9/11, the aviation industry was pressured to reorganise and strengthen security and controls at the airports and around them. After Corona, they might be called to implement health measures. This may result in changing the design of the terminals; ventilation and air purifiers could be extensively installed. Restrictions on allowances inside of the terminal and stricter schedules to avoid delays could also be established.

“With the passengers’ behaviours and expectations changing, their resulting experience will feel quite different. ” For instance, travellers could prefer more outdoor and green areas at airports as a way of feeling safer in a more expansive area and cleaner environment.

Health screens and biometrics could be used to find passengers carrying viruses, facial recognition may replace manual boarding and the requests for self-check-in will continue to increase.

The effects on turnaround might be spectacular, starting with disembarking passengers being required to exit the plane following a defined order. In this way, baggage can be delivered following a FIFO (first in, first out) method, speeding up the lead time of the process. Cleaning procedures will also change, as deep sanitation of the aircraft being required after each flight.

Be lean to be better

Airports, airlines and other stakeholders will have to focus in reducing wastes, described as everything that does not add value to the process, following the Japanese example of the Lean Manufacturing or the “Toyota Way” written by Jeffery Liker, in 2004.

Lean design means designing new passenger and goods flows, the entire process of moving one person from the departure airport or even from the passengers’ home to their destination, will be driven by the reduction and elimination of wastes.  Fast Time Simulation, risk assessment and the best use of technology are the first tools to reach these new norms.

On a long-term plan, new ideas and strategies will bring more efficiency and more attention to the environment and to safety, even though right now only negative impacts of the Covid-19 are visible.  Airports and airlines must embrace those new challenges in their future strategic plans, because they will benefit from them

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2 thoughts on “Could Covid-19 be a gamechanger for the Aviation industry?

  1. Very thoughtful — in addition to impacts to Airports, I think there may be long term impacts to other parts of the Aviation industry, given that travel to facilities for installations and/or maintenance may be more difficult, thus delaying some planned improvements and “ordinary” but important actions like Tech Refresh.

  2. Such a piece of great information you shared here. Recently De Havilland Aircraft of Canada announced recently in aviation news, a cautious return to work for its employees and to resume operations. The first phase of return to work involved 100 employees focused on pre-flight activities and deliveries of Dash-8-400 aircraft. The company suspended manufacturing operations on March 20 to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on its workers.

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