With the U.K. and many other states under lockdown, the virus spreading to countries like India, Bangladesh and Myanmar who just don’t have even a tenth of the resources to avert major casualties, how is the world of aviation ever going to get back to pre-Covid19 “normal”?
The answer is it never will. There will be a new normal, but much is going to change.
For one, aircraft types are going to be culled and the slow phase out of older expensive to run models, already speeding to an end, will happen almost over night.
Airlines will be quick to rebuild their lifeline routes, those to primary destinations, and desperate to make sure you know about it.
However, less profitable routes will be slow to return. People in general will be cautious about travelling to areas that were hard hit, or still suffering from lower infection rates. This virus isn’t going to go away in 12 weeks, it will still be lurking in 2 years. Only a vaccination will bring it to an effective end, and that’s going to take years to immunise everyone to a level it stops being a threat.
Airlines are also about to face a potential reckoning for their bad behaviour in the past. Sheltered behind ancient treaties they’re given immunities and rights over ticketing, cancellations, name alterations and liabilities that no other industry has ever enjoyed.
They have culled each of their enemies until they’ve become massive airlines, crushing smaller competitors. And that will go on, but not as fast as it was.
Any bailout of some airlines in the U.K. and US for example, is likely to see the government take some sort of share holding or controlling bond. When that happens airlines might find that concessions for their bailout are changes to their less than customer friendly, policies. And demands for a more open, realistic environmental policy.
In the U.K. and Europe many airlines will be told to sort out their legally mandated compensation schemes – and their almost universal unwillingness to payout or make it difficult to do so.
The one thing that airlines are already planning for is the return to service scenario. Most are still working out how to shutdown, but I’ve already been involved in teleconferencing with a small team at one airline charged with working out how to get up and running again. My real expertise and what I love most is in planning and system rollout, this is one challenge, locked up as we are, I couldn’t turn down.
That process is not going to be lightening fast.
Airlines like Qantas were taking the opportunity to fully service every aircraft while it’s grounded. That may be curtailed by lockdowns on staff at service centres, but it’s a way to be ready.
And weeks of laid up aircraft means every one will have to be checked over, ground tested and flight tested before going back into service. Many will be out of position, at remote airfields, and pilots will have to be taken there to get them out and fly them back. It’s going to take weeks, probably three months, not days to get an airline the size of BA aback to full strength.
There’s also the cabin crew problem. Many have been laid off, and knowing how many you need back and how soon you need them will be a day by day phase-in process that’s going to need a lot of planning. And it will get changed daily, destination airports may not be so quick to reach full operational status again.
Airports are another huge factor. They are vast, complex organisms with huge arrays of machinery and technology systems that must be operational and manned before the airlines can even start to function again.
Air traffic controllers are another key ingredient, aircraft go nowhere without them, and enough have to be available to make sure that airports, and national airspace, are able to manage ground and air control safely.
Have no doubt the airlines will be back, we can’t live without them, but they might find themselves faced with stricter regulations on their environmental responsibilities, their behaviour to customers and maybe a little more humility from some.