“Talking to airline executives, 80 per cent is their new 100 per cent,” said the chief executive of the Airline Passenger Experience Association, Mr Joe Leader, whose firm, together with satellite firm Inmarsat, played host to a panel discussion on Wednesday. The speakers, dialling in via video chat, included aviation analysts and chief executives of airlines.
Ms Victoria Moores, the European editor of publication Aviation Week, said the industry could emerge much leaner, possibly half the size it was prior to the crisis.
The International Air Transport Association (Iata), releasing its latest estimates on Wednesday, described the plunge in global passenger traffic as the “largest decline in recent history”.
It nosedived 52.9 per cent in March, compared with the same period a year ago, said Iata. Asia-Pacific airlines led the fall, losing 65.5 per cent of passenger traffic.
Iata’s director-general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac has signalled that the worst is yet to come, saying the situation has “deteriorated even more in April” and most signs point to a slow recovery.
But, before any recovery, airlines will have to overcome many hurdles, including streamlining their business practices and regaining passengers’ trust.
Mr Christoph Mueller, the former chief executive of Malaysia Airlines who took part in the discussion on Wednesday, was confident that many airlines would emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic better equipped to deal with such disruptions even though the current challenges were “unprecedented.”
Mr Mueller, who is also the former chief digital and innovation officer of Emirates Group and now runs an aviation consultancy, said that financial resilience, the speed of decision-making and the way airlines communicate with their staff and customers were key to riding out the storm. Airlines now had to conserve cash and put staff on furloughs, he added.
Mr Mueller believed that short-haul domestic flights would recover first, followed by international flights.
Mr Anko Van Der Werff, chief executive of Colombian airline Avianca, said that post-coronavirus, there will be changes to almost every single point in the process of taking a flight, from pre-booking to the airport.
“Social distancing is going to be here for a little while. It’s not going to be a matter of just a month or two. So how do you (re)design all of that, from the boarding process to getting out of an aircraft,” he said.
Mr Leader said cleanliness could be a big part of aviation culture going forward. “I think what’s here to stay is a level of cleanliness. It’s the new symbol of quality for airlines moving forward,” he said.