Editor’s comment: Testing times

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I know, I’m probably testing your patience writing about the need to introduce COVID-19 testing at airports around the world. But, with airports continuing to reopen and airlines resuming at least some of their services, it’s become increasingly obvious that testing will be vital to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and rebuild passenger confidence.

Major airline chief executives have already called upon US and European governments to introduce a new joint COVID-19 testing scheme. The companies involved believe that airport testing should take the place of mandatory quarantine requirements.

Now, Gloria Guevara, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) President and CEO is adding her support for testing, saying, “A substantial programme of investment to ensure comprehensive testing facilities are implemented at airports is needed.” She added, “This will provide reassurance to all travellers, maintain ‘air corridors’ between countries, and remove damage and disruption caused by blunt quarantines which massively impact the recovery of the travel and tourism sector.”

As part of the screening process, WTTC would like to see testing that involves temperature checks and swab tests for all arriving and departing passengers with results back within 24 hours. Only those testing positive – with or without symptoms – should be put into quarantine. “Where there are apps to assist in effective test and trace regimes, passengers must be advised to sign up and use them,” Guevara added.

Some countries and airports have already implemented compulsory COVID-19 testing for passengers prior to boarding an aircraft or on arrival from certain destinations. Eindhoven Airport in the Netherlands is a case in point. It has introduced a COVID-19 test centre (pictured right) in collaboration with Ecolog Deutschland (a leading provider of integrated services including logistics, screening and diagnostics) and Pro Health Medical. Designed to support airports, airlines and governments in their efforts to reduce the spread of the virus, Ecolog’s testing station provides travellers with the ability to perform a COVID-19 RT-PCR test and to receive the results electronically on the same day that the sample is taken.

“Driving test adoption by public is regarded as one of the most effective ways to fight this pandemic,” said Ali Vezvaei, Group CEO of Ecolog International. “To do so, testing should come to the people and it has to become affordable,” he added.

Guevara sums it up perfectly: “We are going to have to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future so we must do all we can to protect public health and save lives, whilst restoring consumer confidence, driving the global economic recovery, and saving the jobs of millions of people whose very livelihoods depend upon a thriving travel and tourism sector.”

Have a great weekend, 

Chloë Greenbank, Regional Gateway Editor.

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Mobile Airport Authority reveals new downtown airport plan

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The Mobile Airport Authority in Alabama is planning to move commercial air passenger service from Mobile Regional Airport back downtown to the Brookley Aeroplex. The latter is the Mobile region’s largest industrial and transportation park anchored by Airbus’ largest North American manufacturing plant.

The authority laid out its plans for the new passenger terminal, which includes a $160 million eight-gate facility, during a webinar on Tuesday 4 August. Part of a process that began in 2018, the master plan was rolled out in response to a feasibility study that revealed it was both feasible and critical for the Mobile Airport Authority to move commercial air passenger services from the Mobile Regional Airport in west Mobile to the Mobile Downtown Airport in order to re-capture passenger traffic.

Chris Curry, Mobile Airport Authority’s President, commented that, “While there is no doubt that the aviation industry has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the market will rebound.” He added that now “is actually a good time to be developing and implementing a plan to recpature that market when it returns.”

Built at its current location in 1949, Mobile Regional Airport loses around 55% of its passengers to airports in Pensacola, Biloxi-Gulfport and New Orleans because urban sprawl and  congestion have made it a difficult destination for passengers. Brookley by comparison is a mere four miles from downtown Mobile and in close proximity to the Eastern Shore area of Daphen, Spanish Fort and Fairhope –

According to Curry, the footprint at Brookley is smaller than the existing terminal at Mobile Regional Airport. “It’s designed to be smaller and more efficient with the ability to expand,” he said.

The master plan was conducted by consulting experts Leigh Fisher and was financed largely through funds authorised by the Federal Aviation Administration, who Curry says will also largely finance the new terminal.

Gulfstream opens new warehouse close proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta

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Gulfstream has opened a new aircraft parts distribution hub in Atlanta, within two miles of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The warehouse’s location will allow for parts to be delivered around the world quickly and efficiently.

“Atlanta is the optimal choice for our newest warehouse,” commented Derek Zimmerman, President, Gulfstream Customer Support. “Hartsfield-Jackson typically offers more than 150 domestic and 70 international nonstop flights and has been named the most efficient airport in the world. By distributing parts directly from Atlanta, we can save shipping and delivery time in order to provide the most expedient service to our customers.”

The warehouse maintains approximately $23 million in parts inventory. Crane Worldwide Logistics provides the warehouse space and handles logistics services.

Gulfstream’s global parts inventory totals more than $1.3 billion. Its parts network includes the main Customer Support Distribution Centre in Savannah with additional distribution centres in Van Nuys, California; Teterboro, New Jersey; as well as Amsterdam in the Netherlands; Basel in Switzerland; Hong Kong and Singapore.

Daytona Beach Airport beefs up security

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Daytona Beach International Airport is beefing up its security with the purchase of three license plate recognition (LPR) camera systems that will alert officials if stolen or wanted vehicles drive into the airport.

The stationary systems will be posted at tactical vantage points around the airport, where they will read the license plate of passing vehicles and identify those that are wanted by law enforcement. The purchase of the new security cameras has been approved by Volusia County Council, which is buying the equipment and service contract from NDI Recognition Systems of Winter Springs for $130,553.

The license plate readers will tie into the same systems that are used by multiple law enforcement agencies around the state, including the Volusia Sheriff’s Office, Daytona Beach Police Department, Port Orange Police Department and Orange City Police Department. “These additional LPR sites will improve public safety and law enforcement efficiencies by integrating with the existing countywide system to expand coverage of license plate scans for stolen or wanted vehicles,” states a memo from Volusia County Council. “These systems are fully integrated and provide an increased radius for real-time data sharing

Signature Flight Support acquires two Swiss FBO locations

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The world’s largest network of private aviation terminals, Signature Flight Support, has added two new locations to its European network, having acquired TAG Aviation’s FBO, SA and its fixed base operators (FBOs) at Geneva and Sion. The purchase represents Signature’s first foray into the Swiss private aviation sector.

Featuring three private passenger lounges, two crew rest areas, in addition to a small conference room, TAG’s facilities in Geneva’s general aviation terminal also provide Swiss and French customs clearance directly on site to arriving visitors. During the winter season de-icing is available and the FBS’s dedicated fuelling capabilities are capable of handling up to transport category aircraft.

The Sion facility is a complementary location encompassing a private terminal and hangar complex with on-site Swiss customs.

“Europe continues to be an area of strategic opportunity for our global business,” explained Mark Johnstone, Chief Executive Officer, Signature Aviation. “TAG Aviation’s tenured presence in Geneva presented an excellent means to enter the second busiest general aviation market in Europe, and its operations in Sion are a source of valuable seasonal traffic. We look forward to building on the extensive reputation for service excellence that TAG Aviation has cultivated.”

San Diego adds nonstop service to Santa Barbara

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San Diego International Airport will add a once daily, service to Santa Barbara, in California to its network thanks to Alaska Airlines.

The addition of the new link marks the fifth new market added by Alaska Airlines in 2020. It follows the addition of Redmond in Ore, and San Luis Obispo in California, as well as Cancun in Mexico (which will begin in November) and Fort Lauderdale in Florida (also in November). Service to Missoula, Montana will begin in March 2021.

“We are happy that Alaska Airlines is adding another route to the list of new service offerings at San Diego International Airport this year,” said Kimberly Becker, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority President and CEO. “We know there are many Santa Barbara residents and San Diegans that will be taking advantage of this intrastate route as both destinations have a lot to offer both the leisure and business traveler.”


Munich Airport welcomes return of Lisbon link

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Portuguese carrier TAP Air Portugal has resumed services between Munich in Germany and the Portuguese capital, Lisbon.

Just in time for the busy summer season, TAP Air Portugal  is resuming flights from Munich twice a day. TAP passengers will also benefit from the fact that the Humberto Delgado Airport functions as a hub and offers many attractive connections to North and South America, the Azores and Afirca.

Andreas von Puttkamer, Head of the Aviation Business Unit at Munich Airport, expressed his delight at the resumption of the connection to Lisbon: “With TAP, another important Star Alliance Partner is returning to Munich who offers a high-frequency route network, primarily to South America and to vacation regions in Southern Europe.”

Alice Springs aircraft boneyard to benefit from $3.5m investment

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Alice Springs, which is best known as an aircraft boneyard  and storage facility, is set to benefit from a $3.5 million investment from the Nothern Territory (NT) government.

The investment will help create 55 local jobs. It will also entail building new roads to ensure the facility’s capacity can meet demand.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), parking spaces at the regional airport are in demand.

Tom Vincent, owner of the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) maintenance facility told ABC: “As soon as extra spots for storage come online, there are aircraft filling those spots.”

NT’s new investment package will see the aircraft parking facility double its workforce and it will also inject more than $10 million directly and indirectly into the Northern Territories economy.

“Storing aircraft is not just a coronavirus issue but obviously more planes are grounded than flying so there is a unique opportunity here,” concluded Chief Minister Gunner told NT News.

Norwich Airport welcomes return of KLM

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Norwich Airport in the UK has welcomed the return of a daily service to  Amsterdam Schiphol Aiport in the Netherlands thanks to KLM. The link to Schiphol provides passengers with the ability to connect to more than 100 European and intercontinental destinations via Amsterdam.

Commenting on the reintroduction of the service, Richard Pace, Managing Director at Norwich Airport, said: “The return of daily flights from Norwich to Amsterdam Schiphol is excellent news for Norwich Airport after a difficult period in our industry. Connectivity between Norwich and Amsterdam is critical for our region and for our global onward connectivity from East Anglia via Schiphol.”

He added that the return of KLM marks the first signs of recovery and growing confidence amongst commercial passengers and airlines alike. “We’ve been busy implementing all the appropriate additional safety measures at Norwich Airport; we’re open for business and ready to facilitate safe travel for passengers.”

Norwich has introduced a range of health and safety measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Face masks are mandatory for both passengers and crew when boarding and during the flight and new aircraft cleaning procedures have been introduced including the disinfection of all surfaces in contact with customers such as armrests, tables and screens.

Benedicte Duval, General Manager for Air France-KLM in the UK and Ireland added: “After what has been and continues to be, a very challenging period for our industry, we are pleased to be in a position to resume a daily service from East Anglia. We have a longstanding partnership with Norwich Airport, having provided worldwide connectivity to the region for over 30 years, and we look forward to welcoming our local passengers back on board once they are ready to travel again.”

He added that, while the airline has returned to its pre-COVID network of 16 departure points in the UK it is aware that supply and demand are now more subject to greater, more rapid change than before.”The next step is to monitor demand and increase frequencies or increase capacity by deploying larger aircraft where possible.”

Editor’s comment: Chaos in the corridors

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UK holidaymakers have had their summer plans thrown into turmoil following the surprise announcement last weekend made by the British Government to close the travel corridor between the UK and Spain with immediate effect. The decision means that all travellers returning from Spain (including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands) are required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. The Government has also warned that holidays to other European countries are also under threat, although there is not a confirmed list of ‘at risk’ countries.

The dramatic U-turn has also caused further disruption to Europe’s already ailing aviation and tourism sector.

Holiday tour operator TUI said in a statement that it would be cancelling “all holidays to mainland Spain”, until 9 August.  Andrew Flintham, TUI’s Managing Director said that, “this level of uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business and disappointing for those looking forward to a well-deserved break.”

The European Regions Airline Association’s Director General, Montserrat Barriga, also commented that, “We are disappointed once again by the improvisation from Spain and the UK. What kind of hands are we in? Really worrying and materially impossible to run an aviation business like this.”

Regional airports are expected to be particularly hard hit by the closure of the travel corridor with flights to the Spanish islands from outside of London making up 27% of all flights in August 2019. The UK airports’ trade body, the Airport Operators Association (AOA), has called for the Government to drop its blanket quarantine policy and move to a risk-based approach that allows travel to safe destinations such as Lanzarote in the Canary Islands,  and Majorca and Ibiza in the Balearics.

Underlining that it is of course right that public health concerns are a priority in the response to COVID-19, AOA is urging the UK Government to introduce air bridges on a regional basis. A blanket quarantine measure, it says, risks further damaging the fragile re-start of the aviation sector.

Karen Dee, AOA’s Chief Executive, said: “The Government has acted with urgency to reintroduce quarantine measures for Spain based on public health concerns, but we must not allow this to usher in a return to an illogical, ill-conceived and misguided policy. They must act with the same urgency to exempt those islands where a quarantine is wholly unnecessary.”

The chaos caused by the uncertainty over whether travel corridors will stay open also reinforces the need to introduce stronger measures to ensure that air travel can remain open while ensuring public health is protected. Testing at airports is key so those who are COVID-negative can continue to travel without the need to self-isolate upon arrival. And there’s good news on that front. Israeli-based company Nanoscent has developed a test (which it claims is 85% accurate) that involves the user breathing into a nasal tube of an ‘air trap’ with the results then analysed by a scent reader with the results produced almost immediately. It’s also a cost-effective solution with each test unlikely to cost more than $10.

It’s not foolproof but it’s a good start and actionable solutions are what the industry needs now, not uncertainty over travel corridors!

Have a great weekend (especially if you’re in Spain),

Chloë Greenbank, Regional Gateway Editor.