It is hopefully a short-lived Normal, but currently, it is the new Normal: airlines and airports are facing an unprecedented cessation of traffic on a global scale, often at 95 % or even higher of passenger volumes. As of April 2020, Cirum reported an estimated 64% of the global aircraft fleet had been grounded and airline capacity was down 70-80%. The economic losses continue to mount: Oxford Economics projected U.S. travel industry losses will result in a GDP impact of$1.2 trillionin 2020. There is, however, an object lesson for airlines from this insidious and transformative event that may present a way forward towards a more sustainable, profitable, and steadfast industry. It is that planning for the unexpected is no longer an operational task, but rather a survival mandate.
Return to Operation
A return to operation does not mean a return to a pre-pandemic operation. Government institutions, health authorities, transport, tourism, and offices, and last but not least the general public have come to realize that we will have to live even longer with the pandemic impacts. Since further lockdowns are to be prevented as far as possible, we will install many new regulations in our everyday life, which especially applies to public hubs like airports. New processes will result in a greater workload which has to be considered in the planning process. In the future, airlines and airports will probably have more employees responsible for (initially) fewer passengers. More contactless identification, pass-through, and payment facilities will have to be created. Also, the wearing of face masks will have to be monitored, and more staff will have to be hired for hygiene and medical care – just to name a few examples. Just in May, IATA has proposed a series of guiding principles for ground operations to ensure all potential new measures are aligned according to one set of international standards and rules.
Right now, we can project that certain flights are likely to rebound faster than others: business travel and short-haul flights are expected to bounce back sooner than leisure travel and long-haul flights. On a wider scale, the global economic conditions also have to be taken into account. All of these unknown factors will have to be considered in conjunction with different criteria such as expected seat load factors (i.e., very low, low, medium and normal), staffing requirements for aircraft and on the ground tasks, Service Level Agreement’s key performance indicators, and task rules (i.e., minimum handling service level, crisis modified service level, standard service level and premium service level).
What If Planning Solutions
Planning technologies to support air transportation during this new, transformative period can be leveraged to help airlines become better prepared and more resilient. For instance, when flight schedules are available, planning solutions will help airlines develop “what if” scenarios and then apply the technology-driven data to generate optimal staffing levels. If flight schedules are not available, the planning technology can help the airlines gain relevant market intelligence from schedules drawn from pre-pandemic flight schedules and then make assumptions related to different flights such as domestic vs. international, business vs. leisure, short-haul vs. long-haul, and when each will category of flight will recover. These planning solutions also assist in optimizing workforce management which will also be plagued by unknown factors. What is known is that large scale layoffs and furloughs and uncertainties regarding flight plans will introduce new staffing challenges. A lack of continuity planning to support a step-by-step return of employees to their pre-pandemic roles will hinder the industry’s recovery. Applying sophisticated planning and workforce management software, airlines can determine appropriate staffing levels. They can better manage work volumes, staffing capacities, and work process guidelines. These solutions also offer features such as an employee portal that allows workers to easily log in to view their work schedules and any schedule changes.
In the post-COVID-19 period, there will be new flight plans and demand recovery scenarios. Mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, and new partnerships among airlines too will influence a restructuring of routes and fleets. Also being weighed are the different recovery scenarios now being considered, from a rapid bounce back, which is the least likely, reaching a long recovery over up to three years.
Digging deeper into this and other topics, the webinar “How to Strengthen Ground Operations and Keep Staff Safe During a Pandemic: A Digital Approach” on 23rd June will share advice on building a resilient ground operation adapted to today’s novel circumstances. Sign up to join here.
Speaker: Uschi Schulte-Sasse, Senior Vice President INFORM Aviation
How to plan the Recovery – Key Takeaways
- Create scenarios with different probability categories
- Observe the development of regulations and recommendations of health authorities
- Stay in contact with the authorities of all destinations and consider their legal provisions
- Ensure a safe and steady replenishment of all additional health and hygienic related items as additional basic task