We’ll be updating this page regularly to include some of the latest news around COVID-19 in the airline industry.
World Aviation Festival panel says connectivity and PEDs will be key in post-COVID IFEC
Travelers’ personal electronic devices (PEDs) will be critical to airline passenger experiences when travel restrictions loosen around the world.
That’s the headline from last week’s online panel discussion on the future of post-pandemic inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC), hosted by the World Aviation Festival. Industry experts from Panasonic Avionics, Viasat, Emirates, and El Al Israel Airlines shared their insights about why PEDs would become so vital to the passenger experience.
“Demand for connectivity is expected to soar,” said Panasonic Avionics’ Director of Innovation, Sebastian Petry. “Passengers will be looking to have more control to design their travel journey in a more active way when they fly.”
“People stayed at home for such a long time, they became much more tech-savvy, and they’re used to doing multiple things at the same time,” said Petry. “So, the diversity of content and different things passengers can do while they’re sitting in the cabin will be key.”
Discussion highlights include:
- Connectivity is king: With magazines, duty-free, and even the virtual line for the lavatory are expected to go mobile due to hygiene concerns, airlines will be taking a whole new look at how connectivity can impact their operations and the passenger experience.
- IFE system upgrades and streaming: With tighter airline content budgets, expect to see carriers fast-track system upgrades to allow for streaming of passenger’s at-home content, live TV offerings, and more.
- PED/IFE convergence: Noting the trend towards passengers boarding with fully-loaded content, Petry suggested that the opportunities for PED and IFE system convergence are wide open.
- Inflight purchases/retail will go mobile: Expect to see everything from virtual, destination-based products, retail, and even premium content offerings readily available for purchase on passengers’ PEDs.
- PEDs reimagined as seatback IFE remotes: Citing the Contactless IFE Control feature—which allows for PEDs to be used as remotes inflight—in Panasonic Avionics’s Welcome Aboard Collection, Petry said solutions that allow for a “less-touch environment” will also be key moving forward.
IATA Urges Governments to Work Together to Combat COVID Crisis
This summer, four out of five potential travelers opted out of the peak northern hemisphere summer travel season. Coupled with a 79% drop in overall air traffic and a whopping 91.9% decline in international air traffic in July alone, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says the time for governments to work together to rebuild “global connectivity” is now.
Urging governments to join forces to combat this unprecedented crisis, IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac says re-opening borders around the globe is key.
“Protecting their citizens must be the top priority of governments,” de Juniac said in a news release issued by IATA. “But too many governments are fighting a global pandemic in isolation with a view that closing borders is the only solution. It’s time for governments to work together to implement measures that will enable economic and social life to resume, while controlling the spread of the virus.”
Hoping to tackle the crisis head-on with the urgency the moment demands, de Juniac suggests governments focus on three key areas:
- Border re-opening: Uncertainty around travel restrictions are a major detriment to air travel, says de Juniac. He believes industry recovery depends on a coordinated effort to follow global guidelines on reopening borders, like the International Civil Aviation Organization’s CART Report.
- Continuing ongoing relief measures: Airline industry revenues are down by 50% with a projected loss this year of as much as $84.3 billion. Government aid that has been a “critical lifeline” for many airlines is now ending. According to de Juniac, governments need to redouble their economic and regulatory relief efforts now to help turn things around.
- Taking a coordinated global leadership role: While governments have cooperated on establishing guidelines for a safe industry re-start, they have not “worked together to actually make it happen,“ says de Juniac. With passenger uncertainty at an all-time high, governments must not be afraid to work together to take a leadership role in managing risks during the pandemic.
Solidarity and Sustainability are Key for Post-COVID-19 Recovery Says ICAO Council President
Global travel and tourism is a “wonder of the world” in its own right and must be preserved at all costs, said ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano during last week’s Summer Aviation Forum in Athens, Greece. To do so will take industry-wide solidarity and innovation, he told the online audience.
Sciacchitano referenced the recent UN policy brief, COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism, which stresses the vital economic role that tourism plays in countries large and small, and particularly those that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Noting that a coordinated, collaborative effort is needed to create a greener and more sustainable industry moving forward, Sciacchitano laid out a forward-thinking plan for the future that hinges on:
- Safety: Keeping passengers and crew safe and healthy at each touchpoint of the travel journey through the coordinated use of both existing and emerging technologies and solutions.
- Economic viability: Maintaining basic economic viability for commercial airlines during the downturn and eventual recovery by embracing the tenets mapped out in ICAO’s previous CART Report.
- Sustainability: Rebuilding in a post-pandemic world on a “foundation of sustainability” that both prepares the industry for future pandemics and also highlights commercial aviation’s unique economic, social, and environmental impacts.
Sciacchitano said the burden of implementing many of these fundamental economic and operational challenges is shared by airlines, operators, and manufacturers. As such, he urged stakeholders worldwide to work together to rebuild the industry and reconnect the world as “one aviation team. “This is a time not only for great leadership but also deeper collaboration,” said Sciacchitano. “I can think of no other sector more capable in those capacities than our own.”
The Big Picture: COVID-19 Will Be An Airline Challenge For Years
The aviation industry is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic norms until the second half of 2022—at the earliest, predict Geoff Murray and Tom Stalnaker, transportation partners at the Oliver Wyman management consulting group.
They argued as such in a compelling opinion piece for CNN Business Perspectives in which they mapped out the five ways they see COVID-19 impacting the airline industry over the next few years. The duo based their findings on a combination of forecasts from the Oliver Wyman COVID-19 Pandemic Navigator, various econometric models, and real-time passenger data.
Noting that the pandemic is likely to challenge the industry more so than 9/11 or the financial crisis of 2008-2009, they projected that the brightest spots on the horizon will be strictly on the domestic travel front. Countries that have been able to contain the virus expected to reach 75% of 2019 domestic travel demand by the end of 2020. In the U.S., that number sits at around 40%.
Their projections include:
- Fewer airlines. Bankruptcies and mergers are rocking the industry. By 2023, the ones that remain will operate with a simplified network based mainly around their hubs.
- Changes to prices and route availability. In the short term, passengers should expect steep discounts and fare cuts across the board. Once the industry rebounds, however, passengers will find fewer routes and nonstop flights, particularly in and out of smaller cities.
- Business travel will remain sluggish. With companies slashing travel budgets and many people working remotely from home, business travel is expected to remain at 25% below pre-pandemic levels for the time being. It will also recover slower than domestic leisure travel.
Considering that passenger attitudes (and an eventual vaccine) will obviously play a role in these projections, the authors also cited the stark findings detailed in Oliver Wyman’s recent Traveler Sentiment Survey of close to 4,600 consumers in nine countries. More than half of respondents said the pandemic will change how and where they travel for the foreseeable future. And in China, which is normally the world’s largest outbound tourism market, only 12% of respondents said they would consider overseas travel on their next leisure trip.
IATA releases health checklist to Help Airlines Implement ICAO COVID-19 Guidance
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) released a spring report entitled Take-off: Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis. This framework for addressing the pandemic’s impact on the global aviation industry and governments worldwide quickly became an industry standard.
This week in Montreal, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) took ICAO’s Take Off guidelines a step further by releasing an airline self-assessment health checklist to support the report. IATA’s Health Safety Standards Checklist for Airline Operators seeks to provide standards, recommended practices, and other guidance to industry stakeholders to help them self-assess their operations moving forward.
Available free of charge to interested airlines, the checklists’ sections include:
- Quality control of outsourced operations
- Pre-arrival notification
- Embarkation and disembarkation
- Aircraft cleaning
- Onboard air quality
- Inflight operations
- Flight and cabin crew
- Crew layover
- Airport facilities
“Safety is always the number one priority for air transport. And the challenges of COVID-19 have added a new dimension to our efforts,” says IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac. “Developed with input from industry, public health authorities, and governments, ICAO’s Take-off guidance is the global standard for safe operations. IATA’s self-assessment checklist is a practical implementation guide to help airlines comply.”
Citing Ongoing COVID-19 Uncertainty, Boeing Reduces Commercial Production Rates
In April, Boeing announced plans to sharply reduce the production of its commercial widebody aircraft and cut its workforce by as much as 10%. Last week, the continuing uncertainty of the times forced the Chicago-based airframer to adjust production rates even further.
The company is facing a second-quarter net loss of $2.4 billion and a 65% reduction in commercial sales due to the large volume of COVID-19-related fleet groundings, delayed or canceled orders, and airline bankruptcies. That led Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun to announce plans for deeper cuts across the board.
Among the key changes are:
- Reducing 787 aircraft production to six per month, one less than the seven per month announced in April, and less than half of the 14 per month pre-pandemic rate of production.
- Reducing the combined 777/777X production rate to two per month in 2021—also one unit lower than announced last quarter.
- Continued smaller, phased workforce reductions in the form of voluntary and involuntary layoffs and attrition, to meet Boeing’s previously announced net workforce reduction of 10% for the year.
- A much slower ramp-up in 737 production than previously planned, with an expected increase to 31 aircraft per month by 2022.
- Calhoun also confirmed, in a message to Boeing employees, that production rates for the 747/767 would remain the same for now and that plans to end production of Boeing’s storied 747 in 2022 remain unchanged.
Noting that the reality of the pandemic’s impact on the aviation sector continues to be “severe,” Calhoun nevertheless expressed a hopeful note in his message to Boeing employees. “As we look to the future, we also are focused on not just adapting and recovering but also emerging stronger and more resilient,” said Calhoun. “And while we’re facing challenges, it’s important to remember the good work and innovation underway across our company. Aerospace has always proven to be resilient—and so has Boeing.”
Prominent Flight Attendant Shares Ideas on The Future of Air Travel
What will the experience of air travel feel like in the months, and years, to come?
Sara Nelson, a veteran flight attendant and International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO since 2014, recently shared her thoughts about that on Brian Kelly’s Future of Travel webinar series.
According to Nelson, the biggest thing the U.S. government could do for airlines at this moment—beyond emergency financial relief—is a federal mask mandate. Even if airlines have, and enforce, mandatory mask policies, some passengers will still argue against wearing one. Nelson later told the TODAY show she found it “absurd” that the FAA and Department of Transportation have not taken leadership roles on the matter, comparing it with the comparatively swift changes implemented following 9/11. “We absolutely need that backing from our government,” she said.
Beyond masks, Nelson told Kelly on the Future of Travel webinar that several key temporary changes will need to be made to help airlines protect workers and passengers as best as possible from Covid-19 transmission.
The reduction of inflight food and beverage service is second to mask-wearing. Passengers should do their part, she said, by packing food for their flights, bringing hand sanitizer with them, making sure to wash their hands properly and frequently, and being prepared for in-cabin air conditioning by wearing or carrying on some layers.
Nelson said airlines and passengers need to approach flying with a “we’re all in this together” mindset in order to make it through these challenging times.
NYC Area Invests in Touchless Airports
In the face of declining traffic—a 97% decline, in some instances—New York’s JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports are getting new upgrades meant to augment the touchless experience.
Rick Cotton, Executive Director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which oversees those three airports, told Condé Nast Traveler: “Even before Covid-19, there was a very strong movement towards touchless technology, being able to move through the airport without the need for a piece of paper. Now, the pandemic will accelerate that trend.”
Some of the changes Cotton mentioned:
- Do-it-yourself baggage drops and check-in kiosks
- Almost entirely touchless restrooms
- Touchless payment options at food vendors inside the airport
- No in-restaurant dining
- Mask vending machines
- Biometric screening with facial recognition software to speed up security
- Wider corridors and larger waiting areas
- Improved air filtration systems
- UV sterilizing lights on high-traffic surfaces
LaGuardia’s Covid-19 overhaul is part of a larger, $8-billion makeover that has been in the works for years. The New York-area airports join other hubs around the world trying out touchless technologies to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.
What do you think of these changes? Tell us on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Will Covid-19 Force More Air Travel Companies to Take the AI Leap?
More and more technologies that could assist airlines in handling the Covid-19 pandemic are coming to the fore, and none are more prominent than the many applications of artificial intelligence.
AI isn’t a solution unto itself, but rather a bucket that contains a multitude of computer-enabled, algorithmic solutions. As Information Age notes, computer vision—a subset of AI—may become more popular with airports, airlines, and national flight security agencies as they look for ways to scan large groups of people quickly to find possible Covid-19 cases.
“We have the ability to have thermal scanners integrated into a central database for immediate response and contact tracing. In addition, video surveillance, combined with thermal scans to tie biometrics with risk identification, can also be utilized,” the publication writes.
If they want to use this technology, airlines and airports will need to make some major technological leaps to get there. A business survey done in 2019 indicated that one in five travel and transport companies in the U.S. and U.K. haven’t yet deployed AI in their business at all.
As Covid-19 continues to change the way travel companies operate, we will surely see the development of new technologies meant to reduce the risk of contagion while ensuring higher capacity.
U.S. Government Mulls How to Reopen International Travel
Just as the European Union pursues plans to bar American tourists from entering the EU for the foreseeable future because of uncontrolled Covid-19 outbreaks, U.S. airlines are meeting with U.S. government officials to discuss re-opening travel.
On June 26, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, along with a number of senior government officials, met with executives from major airlines to discuss post-Covid recovery. Executives from United, American, Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue, as well as the CEO of trade association and lobby group Airlines For America, were present, although the full details of the conversation have not yet been reported.
However, a White House statement says those who met “discussed the best path forward for allowing Americans to safely travel internationally again,” which included discussions of contact tracing, temperature checks, face coverings, and travel restrictions.
The Cost of Quarantining Passengers
At the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, governments worldwide urged citizens abroad to return home and quarantine for 14 days—many on the government’s dime. As the pandemic wears on, the costs are adding up. One researcher in the UK estimates the cost to British society at 650 million GBP a week.
As more countries consider slowly opening back up to travel, they also have to contend with the potential costs and consequences of 14-day quarantines for travelers and repatriated citizens.
IATA has strongly opposed mandatory quarantine measures for air passengers, saying that these requirements are prohibiting air travel’s ability to recover from the decimation of global tourism.
At the same time, Australia and New Zealand are aiming to open their Trans-Tasman Bubble by September, which would offer travelers between the two countries quarantine-free flights.
The issue of mandatory quarantine for citizens and travelers alike will remain a contentious and evolving issue for many months to come as countries around the world look to restart their tourism sectors in local, regional, and international stages. Watch this blog for more developments.
How Soon Will Airlines And Airports be Able to Test for Covid-19?
You may have heard about a rapid Covid-19 blood test being used at an airport that gives results in “minutes.” Or the laser test, which promises results in “seconds.”
In fact, a continually sprawling marketplace has cropped up around Covid-19 testing, which has led to some confusion among airlines, travelers, and the general public.
As NBC reported, antibody testing has so far not had blockbuster success. But when it comes to the idea of testing for Covid-19 at airports, there are more complex issues at play beyond accuracy. The NBC report raises the question of how testing people for Covid-19 before allowing them to, for instance, board a flight might give some people the feeling they are protected when they may not be. Imagine a scenario in which people get tested prior to boarding a flight, but a number of passengers getting sick anyway because of a faulty test or undetected symptoms. The inherent liability involved is enough to give the industry pause.
Meanwhile, in a report by a Canadian TV station, an aviation marketing agency exec raised another important question: What happens to passengers’ privacy rights when private companies test them for illness at airports, especially without some kind of stringent internationally standardized protocol?
Technology companies, airlines, and governments are rushing to find the winning solution that will enable the billion-dollar air travel industry to take flight once more. Until that becomes a reality, airports and airlines are having to make do with an expanding list of new health and safety measures.
At Panasonic, we understand how deeply the Covid-19 pandemic has touched the airline industry. We knew we couldn’t keep publishing our blog as usual, as if nothing had happened. That’s why we started a section with news highlights —to help centralize information about the airline business and bring together context, information, and new ideas to our industry as it faces the biggest challenge it’s ever faced.
European Commission Issues New Guidelines For Resuming Air Travel
For Europeans, their next flight might include having to ask cabin crew staff for permission to use the toilet.
Other changes will include new processes for check-in, bag drop, and bag pickup which will be redesigned to reduce crowding. And there will be masks—lots of masks.
New guidelines have been set by the European Commission, which on May 13 published a sweeping suite of proposals for re-establishing air travel in post-coronavirus Europe. It is advocating for a “phased and coordinated approach” which will first enable EU member states with similar Covid-19 situations to permit travel.
The EC’s recommendations are non-binding. IATA head Alexandre de Juniac told Reuters he thought they were “a vague recommendation that is quite frankly not helpful to airlines or to consumers because both need clarity.” Globally, IATA estimates airlines will lose more than $300 billion due to Covid-19.
Airlines have been grappling with ways to improve social distancing inside the cabin environment. Recently, Ryanair said it would use the permission system for the toilet to avoid queueing, and would not accept cash for transactions. Other airlines have been selling “socially distanced seating” at premiums.
As Reuters pointed out, however, the EC did not address the elephant in the room: how many passengers can be allowed onto aircraft at once? Those guidelines will come from regulatory bodies in the weeks to come.
The EC guidelines can be viewed here.
With FlightPlan, Inmarsat and APEX ask ‘What’s next?’
Prior to the pandemic, commercial aviation was traveling in a steep upward trajectory as more and more people acquired the taste for travel. It all came crashing down in mid-March, teaching the industry a serious lesson about the value of resiliency in business.
On April 29, Inmarsat Aviation and APEX hosted an online video conference (replay available here) featuring major industry players to consider how the airline business might recover in the years to come, and adapt to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Check out Panasonic’s contribution to the event, “Digital Innovation in Passenger Experience,” here to find out more about why inflight entertainment systems will be intrinsic elements to the industry’s recovery.
What Will Travel Look Like Once the Pandemic Subsides?
Will passengers and crew be required to wear masks? Will airlines charge premiums for “socially distanced seating”? Are airports going to install mandatory temperature screening equipment?
In short: How will the experience of flying change once travel restrictions around the world ease up? In its What We’re Made Of series, APEX is asking how companies inside of commercial aviation are changing to meet our new reality.
Now that the initial shockwaves of the pandemic are calming down and we’re seeing how the dust might settle, airlines and aviation-related companies may find this moment in time to be an incredible moment to slow down and really reconsider the direction of their businesses. They may consider what they could be doing to be more environmentally friendly, more economically sustainable, more socially responsible—not to mention more efficient, by using more of what they’ve already got more strategically.
Novel Approaches to Cutting the Spread of Infectious Diseases
In a recent newsletter and blog post, SimpliFlying considers several approaches airlines may choose to take for helping to reduce the likelihood of travel-induced spread of diseases like COVID-19. One way, in particular, could be the rise of regional travel bubbles, she writes. Australia and New Zealand’s prime ministers are considering creating a “Trans-Tasman Bubble” once the two leaders are confident the risk of spreading the disease is no longer present.
The idea could be adopted in other parts of the world, as well. SimpliFlying says a similar bubble could feasibly be created in regions of Europe.