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.

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.

Global air traffic shows 51% recovery since lowest point

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The Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) has noted a 51% recovery of global aircraft movements since 12 April 2020 – the lowest traffic point to date during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the 14 consecutive weeks have shown growth in unique aircraft movements, according to data produced by Aireon.

“While we still have far to go to regain normal traffic numbers, it’s encouraging to see trends that suggest we are on course for a rebound,” said Simon Hocquard, Director General of CANSO. “These numbers are a testament not only to the resiliency of the aviation industry, but to the efforts of air traffic controllers, air navigation service providers, airports and airlines who have provided an essential service throughout this period of uncertainty and change.”

The week of 12 April saw a decline of over 535,000 global flight movements, with the weeks of 15 March and 22 March seeing reductions of 124,000 and 207,000 respectively. However, the past 14 weeks have seen an increase of approximately 272,000 flight movements – a 51% increase. What’s more global average daily flight numbers increased by 5,800 flights in the past two weeks, bringing air traffic volumes to 60% of 2019 volumes for the first time since the widespread traffic restrictions began.

Underlining the value of data-driven insights and analysis in gaining a better understanding of COVID-19’s impact within avaition, CANSO revealed its partnership with Aireon, global provider of space-based ADS-B data and air traffic management (ATM), technology in April.

Aireon CEO, Don Thoma, stressed that, “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been clear that jurisdictions making decisions based on strong data have been the best prepared… For the aviation industry, data on air traffic has been crucial in understanding how the pandemic impacts a variety of critical aviation stakeholders, both in terms of understanding the trajectory of traffic recovery and how the ATM industry can continue to provide support for our eventual recovery.”

Ryanair reconsidering base closures in Germany

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Following the news last week that the popular low-cost carrier Ryanair planned to shut its base at Frankfurt Hahn Airport with Berlin Tegel and Dusseldorf also at risk of closure, the airline says it may now reconsider this decision.

The possible u-turn on base closures in Germany comes after pilots dropped their opposition to a deal that will cut pay and change working conditions to reduce layoffs. The airline said the move means that 85% of its pilots and 75% of cabin crew across Europe have now accepted temporary cuts to pay and conditions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a call with investors Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, was reported as saying: “When the German pilots last week rejected a pay deal, we closed three German bases. We may have to relook at that now that they accepted the deal over the weekend.”

According to Eddie Wilson, Chief Executive of Ryanair DAC, the largest part of the Ryanair Group which includes Austria’s Lauda and Poland’s Buzz, the deal is the same one that pilots initially rejected, including a pay adjustment downwards of 20% and increased scheduling flexibility.

Earlier this year Ryanair has said it plans to cut around 3,000 jobs due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, although this number could be reduced if staff accepted pay cuts. It has also said the pay cuts are due to be reversed by 2024.

Some of the airline’s regional bases in Spain and Italy are also under threat of being closed.

Cornwall welcomes Heathrow link with British Airways

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Following months of planning, Cornwall Airport Newquay has welcomed the return of a daily service to London Heathrow thanks to British Airways’ Public Service Obligation (PSO) operation to and from the UK capital. The flights will be operated using a fleet of A320s.

The service which launched on 24 July follows the administration of Flybe which had until March built up a strong market on their multi-daily service into London following the switch from London Gatwick last year. “Between March 2019 and March 2020, the Heathrow link carried more than 163,000 passengers. The flight operated with an average load factor of nearly 80%, clearly demonstrating its popularity,” said Pete Downes, Managing Director, Cornwall Airport Newquay.

The UK flag carrier launched the route right at a time when people are looking to return to summer holiday breaks, and businesses are starting to pick up again following the restrictions put in place during the recent coronavirus pandemic. “July has historically been the peak month for Newquay-Heathrow traffic, with a load factor of 91% this time last year,” noted Downes. He added that with many UK citizens now embracing stay cations and looking to take their summer breaks in the UK British Airways introduced its service at the perfect time. “We look forward to working with them to establish this link into Heathrow and continuing to push the message of how the route not only opens up Cornwall to the capital, but the world.”

The new service will open up opportunities for passengers to reach all corners of the world with a seamless process at Terminal 5. “British Airways offers a huge network of destinations from Heathrow in the summer, creating a lot more variety for the Cornish community wanting to explore the world, at the same time opening many new markets for our local business community and advancing inbound tourism potential,” highlighted Downes. “It is this level of service which sees the UK’s national carrier elevate the product offering substantially from anything that has been available to our passengers previously.”