Do we want to go back to the world we knew before Corona?

29 april 2020

One of the things that has become clear during the Corona virus, is that there will be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. And although this is not the first crisis the aviation industry has had to weather, it does seem that this crisis might bring fundamental changes to the industry on different levels; economical, geopolitical and environmental. The question is, is that a bad thing? Or are there opportunities that will benefit aviation in the long run?

There is no doubt that the aviation industry is in crisis mode right now. Since countries have introduced travel restrictions and social distancing measures, passenger flights have dropped more than 40 percent and it is likely that this number will rise throughout 2020. Seeing runways being used as parking stands on such a scale is almost unreal. It has an enormous impact, not only on airlines (Virgin Atlantic going into administration, Air France-KLM receiving emergency support from the Dutch government), but on airports as well, as they are nearly all but closed.

The world will change
The last couple of years we have seen a rise in the globalisation of the world and the aviation industry has played a big part in that. Especially budget airlines, that made it cheap and easy to fly around the world. It has changed the geopolitical landscape. During this pandemic, we have seen that globalisation is put on hold; countries have become more isolated to deal with the crisis, for obvious reasons of course. How, if at all, this will change when the world ‘reopens’, is not clear yet.

Long distance meeting
With the fast rise of online meetings and using video calling as the new way of communicating long distance, the question rises whether after this crisis that trend will continue, decreasing the need for cheap air travel for meetings. Online meetings might be born out of necessity but can well be proven to be ‘the new normal’, as Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte keeps referring to.

Market changes
The economic standstill also puts a focus on the different markets. China has been the major market the last few years, specifically for Boeing and Airbus. Now that the international markets are frozen, Comac, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, is likely to jump into that gap with their C919 narrow body airliner, making China less dependent on Western manufacturers.

Do we need that airport?
A question that certainly will come up, is the role regional airports will have when in the new normal. Are they a part of the regional infrastructure that increases the economical growth, or will they become less important if the number of ‘pleasure flights’, i.e. holiday flights, decreases? This is a question that already has been asked about Lelystad Airport in the Netherlands, which was to be open this year or next year. The purpose of this airport is to receive the overflow of flights of Schiphol. But will there be an overflow in the next few years?

There are opportunities
The Corona crisis is hard hitting yet seems to bring new opportunities for the aviation industry as well. One of the major issues before this was climate change. That question will surely return after this crisis. The pandemic has forced upon the industry time to think about what it has to do to reduce the environmental impact. However, since movements on and around airport have dropped, it provides an opportunity to perform baseline measurements of CO2 emissions, sound emissions and so on. Schiphol Airport for instance, is testing new ways of taxiing, by using hybrid powered tow trucks.

If we use this time to come together and work on plans to make the aviation industry more sustainable, it could benefit us all. The EU Green Deal is a good example of this. And if countries are willing to work together with each other to get the aviation back on its feet – as it did after September 11, 2001 with regard to security measures – we feel that this crisis can be the start of many new opportunities.

To achieve that, there is one step that must be taken; getting passengers back to flying again, reassuring them that it is safe to travel around. If that means implementing measures to achieve that, then that is something worth thinking about. But surely this depends heavily on the countries opening up again.

The big unknown
What the Corona crisis will mean for the future of the aviation industry is anyone’s guess. Will it ever be like it was before? No. But we must ask ourselves; do we actually want to go back to before? Or is this a rude call to all of us, to look at fundamental changes that will keep the aviation industry viable and sustainable for the future?

Let us know if you have thoughts about this, or if you want advice on how to make the best use of the current situation we all face.

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