Aviation continues to battle Covid-19
May 13 2020 07:28 PM
Alex Macheras
Alex Macheras

By Alex Macheras

In an unexpected move, and 5 months into Covid-19, the United Kingdom has said it will introduce quarantine for all arriving air travel passengers.

The UK government explained it is “now needed because there’s a risk passengers could bring it into the country” something rest of world seemingly figured out months ago, and the UK only conclude now it has second highest death toll in world. UK airlines have slammed the decision, as the country has waited to become the coronavirus hotspot of Europe before introducing any measures on those arriving from abroad.

By end of March, almost 90% of the world’s population were living in countries with strict measures on passengers arriving from abroad, including Australia (where passengers are taken from plane to quarantine hotels), here in Qatar and most of the rest of the Middle East, Rwanda, Austria, Greece, Chile, and many others.

However, Britain won’t impose quarantine to travellers coming from France at this stage, France and Britain said on Sunday, with the two countries adding that any such measure would be reciprocal and only be imposed after mutual consultation.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised address on Sunday that to prevent re-infection from abroad “it will soon be the time to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air”. “No quarantine measures would apply to travellers coming from France at this stage,” Johnson’s office said, shortly after a similar statement from French President Emmanuel Macron’s office.

Given travellers flying from France will be exempt from the decision, perhaps the UK government will explain what ‘science’ they’re ‘following’ for airport quarantine that shows the virus only knows how to enter Britain by direct flight, and definitely not by transiting via Paris? It’s questionable, at best.

In Europe, Brussels Airlines will make 25% of workforce redundant — that’s approximately 1,000 jobs set to be cut at the Belgian airline. Brussels Airlines will also reduce shrink its Airbus fleet by 30% — following the “airlines will have to shrink to survive” trend emerging.

Elsewhere, low-cost airline Ryanair announced they will resume 40% of scheduled flights from July — all crew and passengers will have to wear face masks & pass temperature checks, meanwhile Avianca of Colombia have taken the strategic decision to file for bankruptcy (Chapter 11) with intention to "protect and preserve operations" in order to ensure Avianca is here on the other side of the pandemic.

UK-German travel group TUI says it is looking to cut 8,000 roles worldwide calling Covid-19 the "greatest crisis the industry has faced".

Uganda Airlines, with no widebody or long-haul operations, expect to take a delayed delivery of the first A330-800neo by end of this year.

In London, British Airways owner, IAG Group confirms it is proceeding with its €1bn acquisition of (another) Spanish airline, Air Europa — despite the pandemic. IAG now has €10bn in liquidity available — but confirms it will continue with vigorous plans to remove 12,000 employees at British Airways only, amid the pandemic.

Economic disparities between countries, and a difference in their priorities as they grapple Covid-19, have already created an unlevel playing field for the airline going forward. While nations like Australia, Singapore, Finland, Hong Kong have already allocated financial aid to save their aviation industries, it’s becoming very clear that not all countries will, and as a result, we’ll witness a lot of airline casualties.

Government decisions could ultimately determine whether the airlines that existed prior to Covid-19 are part of our flying future once we are out of the other side this pandemic, unless airlines are able to secure added private sector equity.

During this unprecedented time, the countries deciding to bail out their airlines are not doing so based on if the carrier is a state-owned airline, or has offered a good service in the past and is therefore worthy of financial support, but instead the focus is on what role does the airline play within the country, and for most airlines, they play a vital role. Whether it’s providing the public with cheap fares, or being a large carrier for imports and exports.

British Airways and Qatar Airways have received Australian government approval to form a joint venture on routes between the UK and Australia (via Doha). This is unrelated to the current pandemic, and the Australian body confirmed this authorised deal covers a period in which "a return to more stable conditions over time is expected".

History demonstrates that aviation is an incredibly resilient sector. No matter the headwinds faced, the industry has always been able to bounce back. However, this is the largest crisis to hit aviation in the history of the existence of flight. We have quite literally never seen anything close to this. Covid-19 is having a destructive effect on the global travel industry, and the industry will be a significantly smaller one on the other side of this pandemic. Forward bookings are far outweighed by cancellations, and there is a lack of harmonisation across the world in governments to air travel.

Finally, mandatory mask-wearing onboard airline jets is almost definitely going to become the new normal. Canada and Chile (as entire countries) have introduced laws that mandate the wearing of masks onboard, and several airlines including Finnair, Iberia, Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Ryanair, Delta & American Airlines are also rapidly introducing new policies stating that all passengers must wear face masks/face coverings for the entire duration of the flight in a bid to ensure a more hygienic onboard environment.

*The author is an aviation analyst.

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