Editor’s comment: We’re all (really hoping to be) going on a summer holiday

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The sun doesnʼt have to be shining brightly and the sea doesnʼt have to be blue, but I would certainly welcome a trip abroad. And it seems I am not alone in my desire to take to the skies for a change of scenery…

According to the latest report by the European Travel Commission (ETC), the good news for airports is that the proportion of Europeans willing to travel during spring 2021 grew by 20% compared to the organisationʼs November 2020 survey. Whatʼs more, the number of Europeans planning to travel in the next six months increased (albeit slightly) from 49% to 52%. Together, these figures point to a more positive outlook for spring-summer, compared to only 12% of respondents considering taking a trip in January-February 2021.

More than 5,740 respondents participated in ETC’s survey for its latest report. Titled “Monitoring Sentiment for Domestic and Intra-European Travel – Wave 4” the report also reveals that intra-European travel is now the top choice for travellers with more respondents wanting to take a trip to another European country (40%)  than to travel domestically (36%). Meanwhile, leisure is identified as the primary purpose for almost 63% of the surveyed Europeans planning to travel in the short-term, while visiting friends and relatives is the main motive for another 21% and business travel accounts for 9% of respondents.

Confidence in air travel is also steadily on the rise with 52% of Europeans now willing to travel by air, compared to 49% in September. Simultaneously, a lower percentage of respondents (17%) consider that flying poses the greatest risk to their health, down from 20% in September 2020.

However, while Europeans are increasingly eager to travel, ETC has also warned that Europeʼs aviation infrastructure, and airports in particular, need greater support if they are to meet traveller demand. With airports currently at risk of irreversible damage, ETC has joined forces with Airports Council International (ACI) Europe in calling for changes to be made to the EUʼs COVID-19 State aid framework. The two organisations have sent a letter to the European Commission highlighting how the tightening of travel restrictions is preventing recovery in passenger traffic and asking for State aid rules to enable greater  financial assistance for airports and to support air connectivity across Europe.

Itʼs going to be a tough few months ahead before we will see if European travellers’ dreams do come true in time for summer, but nothing is impossible!

I hope you enjoy this weekʼs newsletter and have a great weekend,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway

Leh in India welcomes IndiGo link with Delhi

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Situated in the ‘land of Buddhist Monasteries’ in India, Leh Airport in Ladakh has become the 63rd domestic destination on IndiGo’s network. The ULCC will commence daily flights between Delhi and Leh from 22 February, 2021.

Leh is known for its magnificent landscapes, favourable weather, adventurous activities, Buddhist monasteries and festivals. It’s peak tourist season is typically from April to September. The new route is one of seven being added to IndiGo’s network during the coming months with Darbhanga, Kurnool, Agra, Bareilly, Durgapur and Rajkot all expected to join the airline’s network by the beginning of May.

“We are pleased to begin expansion of our domestic network beyond the pre-covid levels. This will also be our first destination amongst the seven regional stations we announced recently. We are working towards enhancing regional connectivity, which will not only increase access but also promote domestic trade and tourism in the country,” said Sanjay Kumar, Chief Strategy and Revenue Officer at IndiGo.

He added: “IndiGo is committed to providing an affordable, on-time, safe and hassle-free travel experience onboard our lean clean flying machine.”

Shanghai Hongqiao Airport partners with JCDecaux on new airport advertising

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Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport has collaborated with JCDecaux Momentum on its new airport advertising media. Having obtained the national design patent and close on the heels of its first launch at Pudong Airport Satellite Hall, JCDecaux’s series of screens dominate the departure lounges for both airports in Shanghai.

SAMDecaux invited digital media artists, Timo Helgert, to create naked-eye 3D content to showcase the media. Known as the ‘Return of Nature’, Helgert’s creations rediscover urban life and transform the waiting experience into an encounter with artistic inspiration. The artworks feature famous buildings in Paris, Milan and Shanghai surrounded by nature and according to SAMDecaux successfully integrate art and commerce to craft a unique airport cultural atmosphere.

Central Mountain Air suspends key regional routes in Canada

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The privately owned western Canadian carrier, Central Mountain Air (CMA), is suspending services on three regional routes. Services  between Fort Nelson-Prince George, Kamloops-Prince George, Edmonton-High Level and Vancouver-Kamloops will be suspended from at least 3 February until 5 April and in some cases early May 2021.

The decision by CMA follows the announcement earlier in January that the regional carrier was suspending services between Prince George and Fort St. John. No other airline currently operates these affected routes.

Bob Cumming’s CMA’s CEO revealed that “devastating declines in travel and extended provincial health advisories against non-essential travel have necessitated a significant scaling back of scheduled operations for the forseeable future.” He added that the federal government has been promising help for the best part of a year, but no such support has been received or clearly outlined. “Our customers and the communities we serve are bearing the brunt of this inaction. In addition to supporting the local economies with the transport of essential workers, our airline and its dedicated staff fly customers to medical treatments and transport medical supplies, mail, and other vital cargo.”

Cummings also advised those that rely on the airline’s services to voice their view that scheduled air services are critical to their community by contacting their local MLA, MP, Premier or the federal Minister of Transport. “With government support, we would be proud to continue to serve our customers and maintain crucial airline connectivity in British Columbia and Alberta until demand returns. If there is any chance to save vital air service to these communities action must be urgently undertaken,” he concluded.

Mesa expands presence at Beja Airport in Portugal

By Airports, Featured, MRONo Comments

Part of the Hi Fly group, engineering and maintenance company Mesa has opened a new hangar at Beja Airport in Portugal. The new facility, which will serve as a base for Hi Fly’s Airbus fleet, covers an area of around 9,500 metres squared and includes workshops, warehouses, offices, training and other support facilities.

The hangar can house and service A319, A320, A321, A340 and A350 aircraft and in addition to Hi Fly, other airlines holding maintenance contracts with Mesa will also benefit from the new hangar.  Operating 24/7, the hangar has the capacity to service up to  three aircraft at a time.

“Beja is a prime location for aircraft maintenance, and with this additional capacity we hope not only to keep up with the strong growth of Hi Fly’s fleet but also to acquire new customers mainly from Europe and Africa,” said Mesa’s President, Paulo Mirpuri. “It’s a big project for the group and we’re looking forward to welcoming our fleet to this fantastic facility.”

A comprehensive range of maintenance works related to line/ base maintenance will be performed at the hangar, including cabin interior upgrades, engine replacement, landing gear replacement, hydraulics tests, defects correction and troubleshooting.

Mesa has invested €30 million in the project, which is expected to create 150 jobs in its first three years of activity.

Airports and tourism bodies unite in call for revision of state aid rules

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European airports alongside tourism organisations have made an appeal for changes to the EU’s COVID-19 State aid framework. The organisations are arguing that without these amends, their respective industries will suffer irreversible damage in a constantly deteriorating situation.

The European Commission has acknowledged that travel will continue to pose a particular challenge in the fight against COVID-19. It has also reiterated the recent advice against non-essential travel “until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved, particularly in the light of the outbreak of new variants.” Airports Council International (ACI) Europe and the European Travel Commission sent a letter on 19 January to the European Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, pointing to how the tightening of travel restrictions across European States is preventing recovery in passenger traffic and reveals yet steeper falls in air connectivity across Europe. The organisations have urged the Commissioner Vestager to come up with more flexible and more effective State aid rules enabling States to provide the financial assistance needed by airports and to support air connectivity.

According to ACI Europe, another 700 air routes have disappeared from European airports since the end of November. This brings the total figure of lost air routes close to 7,000. For the months ahead, ACI Europe is forecasting that passenger traffic in European airports will be down -56% this year (a revision of its previous forecast of -43%).

“The Commisson’s current COVID-19 State aid framework is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to airports,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “It involves limitations and conditionalities that are very hard to comprehend and that are simply unacceptable given the situation we are now facing – not to mention the fact that airlines have already been granted almost 15 times more financial aid than airports so far.”

Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of ETC, added:

What we are asking for is only the support which is proportionate to the severity of the crisis and the outlook we now face. This is about making sure the aviation infrastructure does not suffer irreversible damage, which would in turn create an instant ripple effect through the tourism ecosystem and the local communities dependent on them. We need urgent action – every day counts.

The two organisations are asking for three core requests to be set out to the European Commission. These include: The possibility for airports to obtain full compensation for damages due to COVID-19 and for as long as travel restrictions remain in place;  The possibility for airports to be compensated for unrecoverable fixed costs for as long as travel restrictions remain in place – without any cap or limitation as regards total amounts; and the opportunity for airports to benefit from Air Connectivity Restart Schemes – whereby States can provide a direct per passenger subsidy to airlines restarting air routes previously operated or launchidn new routes.

San Francisco Airport pushes ahead with runway revamp

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With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting on flight schedules and resulting in heavily reduced aviation activity, San Francisco Airport (SFO) in the US has accelerated runway improvement projects.

The airport plans to close one of its runways (28R) for a four-month period so that it can carry out upgrades, which were initially scheduled to take place in 2022. The initial phase of accelerated work on this runway began in October last year and the latest project, which is slated to begin in April 2021, will see the remainder of the runway being repaved. Two taxiways will also be constructed, while eight runway-taxiway intersections will be expanded and lighting infrastructure will be improved.

According to a statement by airport officials, SFO chose to advance this construction project during the current period of reduced flight activity, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to reduce the extent of disruption to services, such as delays and cancellations caused by the runway closures at a later date. Airlines are currently planning to operate less than 50% of the flights originally scheduled prior to the pandemic.

Golden Gate Constructors, have been awarded the contract for the Runway 28R Rehabilitation Phase 2 project, which is expected to cost in the region of $127 million.

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport cleans up with GBAC accreditation

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Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New England, US, has achieved the cleaning industry’s gold star accreditation.

The regional hub received the gold standard for prepared facilities under the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR accreditation scheme, in recognition of stringent protocols that have been implemented for cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention.

“This is great news for the safety of our staff, travellers and the airport community-at-large,” said Manchester-Boston’s Airport Director, Ted Kitchens. “Consumers who choose to travel by air out of Manchester-Boston Regional Ariport can travel with the confidence that the airport places their health and safety as our primary concern each-and-every day.”

Commenting on how the GBAC STAR verifies that the New England gateway implements best practices to prepare for, respond to and recover from outbreaks and pandemics, GBAC Executive Director Patricia Olinger said: “By taking this important step to pursue GBAC STAR, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has received third-party validation that it follows strict protocols for biorisk situations, thereby demonstrating its preparedness and commitment to operating safely.”

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig added that the accreditation means the airport is “one of only 15 airports worldwide and the only airport in New England to achieve GBAC STAR, providing yet another reason why travellers should choose Manchester-Boston Regional Airport when travelling.”

To achieve the accreditation, the airport was required to demonstrate compliance with the programme’s 20 core elements, which range from standard operating procedures and risk assessment strategies to personal protective equipment and emergency preparedness and response measures.

Fairbanks Airport launches Safety Management System

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Fairbanks International Airport in Alaska, US, is launching its Safety Management System (SMS) to aid efforts in delivering a safe and customer friendly aviation transportation system. The airport is working with Civix to implement the programme, AirportIQ, to manage SMS data.

The Alaskan hub has taken the first step with the programme by offering an anonymous Hazard Reporting Portal enabling passengers, tenants, employees, stakeholders and visitors to report any non-emergency potentially hazardous conditions, incidents and/ or occurrences that might compromise the safe conduct of all airport operations and functions.

SMS builds on Fairbanks’ current safety programme, which is systematic, structured and data driven; has senior leadership commitment; treats safety as a core value; and seeks to proactively mitigate hazards and their associated risks.

Everyone is encouraged to voluntarily report safety information critical to identifying precursors to accidents. Early identification is essential for reducing accident rates and injuries, and leads to the proactive identification of hazards and their associated risks; development of corrective actions; and increased education of appropriate parties.

Stansted Airport

Airport losses top $115 billion due to drop in passenger traffic

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Abilene Regional Airport

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) airline seating capacity fell by around 50% last year, with just 1.8 billion passengers taking flights through 2020, compared with around 4.5 billion in 2019.

In a press statement, ICAO revealed the drop in passenger traffic adds up to a staggering financial loss to the industry of around $370 billion, “with airports and air navigation services providers losing a further 115 billion and 13 billion respectively,”

While the global air industry came to a virtual standstill at the end of March 2020 in response to widespread national lockdowns, by  the end of April the overall number of passengers had fallen 92% from 2019 levels, an average of the 98% drop-off seen in international traffic and 87% fall in domestic air travel.

Although there was a moderate rebound during the summer period, it was short-lived. “Sectoral recovery became more vulnerable and volatile again during the last four months of 2020, indicating an overall double-dip recession for the year,” ICAO said.

The report also notes “a persistent disparity between domestic and international air travel impacts resulting from the more stringent international measures in force.”

ICAO also reports that with domestic travel proving more resilient and the main driver of any glimmer of recovery to the industry, this was particularly true in China and Russia, where domestic passenger numbers have already returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The plunge in traffic has not only put the entire aviation industry’s financial liability into question, said ICAO, it also threatens the viability of millions of associated jobs around the world and has severely impacted global tourism. It also stated that improvement is not expected until the second quarter of 2021, although this will still be subject to the effectiveness of pandemic management and vaccination roll out around the world.

In the most optimistic scenario, ICAO forecasts that by June 2021 passenger numbers will be expected to recover globally to 71% of their 2019 levels (or 53% for international and 84% for domestic flights). However the more pessimistic scenario foresees only a 49% recovery (66% domestic and 26% international).