Editor’s comment: Park life

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Regional Gateway editor Chloë Greenbank summarises the latest happenings across airports serving business, regional and low-fare routes.


As airlines increasingly operate skeleton services and ground their aircraft in response to the falling demand in traffic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic there’s a new issue arising. Where to park all these aircraft?


According to Flightradar24, there can be anywhere up to 20,000 flights in the sky at any one time but as the number of airlines suspending their services grows daily, airports across the globe are finding themselves serving as giant parking lots.


Cirium data has found that the number of planes in storage has doubled to more than 5,000 since the start of the year. More are expected to be parked up in the coming days with carriers including Qantas, GOL, Singapore Airlines and Emirates all suspending their services.


Qantas is already in discussions with airports and the government about parking its aircraft. Avalon Airport, west of Melbourne, expects to take 50 planes from Qantas and its low-cost offshoot, Jetstar. Reports suggest that Qantas is sending 30 engineers to Avalon to help maintain the planes so they can re-enter service once demand picks up again. The Australian carrier also plans on parking some of its ageing 747s at Alice Springs, which boasts a desert storage facility. Meanwhile with Cathay Pacific cutting 96% of passenger capacity in April and May, most of its aircraft have been left lined up at its hub, Hong Kong Airport. Austrian Airlines has already brought most of its aircraft home to Vienna Airport and British Airways has left much of its fleet of grounded A321s at Glasgow Airport.


In the US, 20 Delta Connection regional jets and 30 more from United Express will be parked up indefinitely at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport near Macon. The county will be paid for the aircraft to stay at the airport, the mayor said. TBI Airport Management, the company that runs the airport, is seeking FAA approval to close an auxiliary runway to free up more space, if necessary.


And at Denmark’s Copenhagen Airport two of the airport’s three runways have temporarily been recommissioned to accommodate grounded aircraft. The third runway will remain active for take-offs and landings.


The drop in passenger demand and air traffic has seen airports lose significant revenue from landing and take-off fees, as well as ramp fees, fuelling, car parking, duty free and other non-aeronautical tariffs. But could they recover some of that lost revenue from aircraft parking and maintenance services?


It’s not about making a profit (one report on CNN suggests that major European hubs charge in the region of $285 per hour), but about working together with local authorities and governments to find a solution that benefits all the players and ensures the industry is ready to get up and flying again once signs of recovery start to appear.


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London City temporarily closes to commercial and private aviation

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The UK capital’s London City Airport has made the decision to temporarily suspend all commercial and private aviation flights from the airport. The airport has however been offered as London’s most central airport to the government as an operational base to support the emergency services, military or other government agencies.

The announcement comes following the UK Government’s latest instructions in response to the coronavirus outbreak and will come into effect as of the evening of 25 March.

In a statement the airport says: “At this point in this fast-moving and unprecedented situation, we think this is the responsible thing to do for the safety and wellbeing of our staff, passengers and everyone associated with the airport.”

As one of the largest private employers in the area the airport says it will work to return to work as soon as it is possible to resume commercial and private flight operations.


Brazil’s largest domestic airline further reduces network

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In response to a reduced demand for air travel during the coronavirus outbreak Brazil’s largest domestic airline, GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes S.A. (GOL), is further readjusting its domestic flight network from 28 March to 3 May. This will result in a total reduction in GOL’s total flight capacity to approximately 92% in domestic markets and 100% in international markets.

The Brazilian carrier will maintain an essential network of 50 daily flights between São Paulo International Airport in Guarulhos (GRU) and 26 other cities of Brazil. Meanwhile, the airline’s regular regional and international operations will be suspended.

The airline asserts it is committed to doing everything it can to help the country through this pandemic. By providing this essential service it will be able to transport key necessary items such as medicines, as well as passengers needing to travel.

With the airline continuing to monitor the situation it will adjust its flight service according to the specific demand from the 26 cities and will provide additional flights where needed and appropriate to regional and international destinations.

Luis Munoz airport ASUR

ASUR Airport Group responds to decline in passenger traffic

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Luis Munoz airport ASUR

With operations in Mexico, the US and Colombia, Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste, S.A.B. de C.V. (ASUR airport group) has seen a decline in passenger traffic in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

As a result of the Colombian Government’s suspension of all commercial aviation activity in the country’s airports from 25 March to 13 April 2020, ASUR’s commercial operations at the Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport in Medellín, José María Córdova International Airport in Rionegro, the Los Garzones Airport in Montería, the Antonio Roldán Betancourt Airport in Carepa, the El Caraño Airport in Quibdó and the Las Brujas Airport in Corozal have been suspended.

While Mexico and Puerto Rico have yet to issue flight restrictions the FAA has accepted a request from the Governor of Puerto Rico that all flights bound to Puerto Rico land at  Luis Munoz Marin Airport (LMM) in San Juan, which is operated by ASUR’s subsidiary Aerostar. The government has also requested that all passengers be screened by representatives of the Puerto Rico Health Department. As a result LMM airport remains open and operating, albeit with reduced volumes of traffic. ASUR is bracing itself for similar flight restrictions in Mexico and the US, which will significantly reduce its operations further.

Airlines, alongside other tenants and clients operating in ASUR’s airports have already asked for assistance, either through discounts or extensions on payments they owe. The company remains in commercial discussions with those clients but believes it has sufficient liquidity to meet its obligations and continue operating as normal for the time being.

Van Don Airport Vietnam

Vietnam’s airports welcome repatriated passengers

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Van Don Airport Vietnam

Staff working at air transport hubs across Vietnam have been busy catering for passengers who have been studying or working abroad and who have been returning home in recent weeks.

Statistics from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security show that more than 121,000 foreigners and around 84,000 Vietnam exited and entered the country’s air transport hubs and land border gates.

During the period 18-23 March, Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi has received around 7,500 passengers (foreigners and Vietnamese) from epidemic-stricken regions. Meanwhile Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City has been receiving 1,300 to 1,700 people every day.

In addition Van Don International Airport (Vietnam’s newest and first privately-owned airport) in the northeastern province of Quang Ninh has received 24 flights from epidemic-stricken regions such as Wuhan (China), South Korea, Japan and several European countries with a total of 3,526 passengers, including around 345 foreign visitors.

The airport, which features modern equipment, state-of-the-art systems and carefully planned arrival processes has been specifically chosen by the Vietnamese government to receive flights to help Vietnamese citizens living abroad to return home.

“To receive flights from China, Korea and more recently Europe, we have carefully planned an implemented processes and procedures to avoid cross-contamination of staff and other passengers,” said Pham Ngoc Sau – Director of Van Don International Airport.

The airport has implemented a rigorous process to receive guests safely by creating an outdoor arrival zone to ensure normal operations can continue in the terminal.

Aircraft park in a remote area accordingly, far from the main terminal. A bus then takes passengers to an area where medical staff check their temperatures, before they complete an electronic medical declaration and proceed through immigration and customs procedures. Once they have been cleared passengers are then able to collect their luggage before being transported by military vehicles to an isolation zone.



UK airports disappointed with government’s support package

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The Government has decided not to support airlines and airports with one, comprehensive package but instead, will review each case individually.

Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association (AOA), Karen Dee commented, “After having publicly announced a support package for airports and airlines, we’re surprised by where we find ourselves today. Our industry will now have to fight on its own to protect its workforce and its future.”

Dee added that, “With passenger numbers approaching close to zero, UK airports have seen a major drop in revenue. They are taking unprecedented steps to safeguard airport staff and operations through this crisis, which could include in some cases considering shutting down for a period of time.” This, she warned, could have “major impacts for UK communities and businesses.”

Citing how airports continue to operate as  gateways for lifeline services to the Highlands and Islands communities and UK Crown Dependencies as well as freight services that ensure supplies arrive in the UK, Dee highlighted how airports also serve as operational bases for UK Search & Rescue services, for offshore oil, gas and wind farms that provide vital energy supplies. However, with UK airports now experiencing a significant decrease in passenger numbers and therefore, a major drop in revenue several have been forced to temporarily close to safeguard employees and operations.

Emphasising that other countries across Europe have recognised the vital role airports play and are rallying to support them. Dee warned that he UK’ Government’s case-by-case approach “will mean that it will not be feasible to provide the support necessary in the coming days”. Subsequently airports will struggle to provide critical services and effect the UK’s recovery from the current epidemic. A comprehensive support package for airlines and airports would have provided financial support and it would have put in place the necessary measures to support airports, ground handling agents, air navigation service providers and others in their operational recovery once the pandemic recedes.

AOA  has urged the Government to reconsider and at the very least provide a comprehensive package of support for airports and ground-based services  to ensure the successful recovery of the aviation industry. It would increase the flexibility of the employment retention scheme, extend business rate relief, allow VAT and other tax deferrals, suspend regulatory costs where possible and provide relief from airport policing costs.

Brits urged to return home amid airport closures.

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The UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has urged Brits currently overseas to “return home now” amid the news that airports are starting to close “some without any notice”.

As governments begin to enforce lockdowns to protect their citizens the temporary suspension of commercial flights is leading to the closure of airports around the world.

Stating that the “the time to come home is now while you still can… and while there are still commercial routes to do so.” Raab also emphasised that where people could not get a commercial flight home the government would work “round the clock” to bring them back.

The UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also reiterated that, “This is a very difficult time for British citizens travelling overseas, or those with families and loved ones abroad.

“We’re in close contact with airlines, who are working tirelessly to ensure British citizens travelling overseas can safely return to the UK. We are also working closely with other government departments, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to ensure airlines are able to operate to bring people back home.”

Updated travel advice from the FCO tells all British tourists and short-stay travellers to return home as authorities have warned that further closures to air routes are likely to come in the next two days, and could see no notice given. A statement from FCO read: “Today’s update reflects the pace at which international travel is becoming more difficult with the closure of borders, airlines suspending flights, airports closing, exit bans and further restrictions being introduced daily.”

Swedavia implements action plan to address COVID-19

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In response to a dramatic decline in passenger volumes as a result of COVID-19 Swedish airport operator, Swedavia, has implemented an action plan to adapt its services. Operations across Swedavia’s network of 10 airports will be scaled down to a minimum based on the market situation. Meanwhile, a comprehensive review of the company’s investment portfolio is also being carried out.

“We are in the midst of a social crisis of an unprecedented nature,” said Jonas Abrahamsson, Swedavia’s President and CEO. “Our most important priority now is to limit the spread of the disease and protect people’s lives and health. However, the consequences for a company that enables people to meet are dramatic, since our revenue is in principle completely variable and connected in one way or another to passenger volume.”

For the first two months of March the decrease in passenger volume across Swedavia’s airport network was around 30%. This downturn is expected to continue as airlines continue to suspend services.

While the airport operator reports it will do its utmost to safeguard its mission of providing access to meet the current demand from commercial traffic and air ambulance flights it also warns that it expects to lay off 1,900 out of a total of about 2,500 employees until further notice.

Abrahamsson concludes that: “When the situation around COVID-19 has stabilised and demand has once again rebounded, we naturally want to be able to scale up our operations as quickly as possible and then have our fantastic employees back. However, right now, there is enormous uncertainty about future developments, and it is not possible to provide any forecasts as to the future. We therefore also need to prepare ourselves by creating room for manoeuvre as developments unfold.”

Riga Airport stays open with limited operations

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Following the temporary suspension of international scheduled and non-scheduled passenger flights Riga Airport will remain open so that it can cater for repatriation flights, cargo transportation and other permitted flights, including domestic flights from Riga to Liepāja operated by the national airline airBaltic.

There are currently 45 aircraft parked at the airport: 37 airBaltic aircraft, 6 SmartLynx and two WizzAir aircraft as well as three private aircraft. More than 50 aircraft will remain at Riga during the flight restriction period.

In cooperation with the Emergency Medical Service, the airport will screen passengers arriving on repatriation flights with medical points at the airport working to the schedules of these flights.

“The safety and health of our employees and the public are a priority and value at Riga Airport, and we must adopt and implement the measures in place to limit the further spread of COVID-19 virus,” said Ilona Līce, Chairperson of the Board of Riga Airport.

“Our main task during this time of crisis is to ensure the operation of these flights, as well as the operational and financial stability of the company, so that airport operations can be fully restored as soon as possible once the situation normalises,” she continued.

Companies operating at the airport will continue to repair aircraft, while training flights and technical flights without passengers will continue to operate.

Līce concluded that she would like to “thank the airport’s professional team for their efforts during this stressful period.”

CANSO urges decision makers to keep skies safe

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With the COVID-19 pandemic plunging the global aviation industry into an unprecedented crisis, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) has urged urged governments to protect air navigation service providers (ANSPs) from financial collapse.

“The current crisis has unfortunately hit our airline customers hard, but airlines deferring payment or not paying at all for air navigation services is absolutely not the solution,” said CANSO Director General, Simon Hocquard.

ANSP revenues are directly related to the volume of air traffic they control, so the air traffic management (ATM) industry is under severe pressure and is extremely vulnerable to the dramatic decrease in air traffic currently being experienced across the globe. “We need to make sure we do not create long term damage to the aviation system and avoid one company’s solution being another’s problem,” Hocquard continued.

Explaining that suspending operations and laying off a large proportion of staff is simply not an option, he added: “We have to continue to keep our operations running safely, to keep our sectors manned in order to ensure the safe transit of aircraft including cargo flights delivering vital medical supplies and food. We cannot close our airspace, we still have flights to manage, albeit at a reduced level. The airlines and society rely on the ANSPs to provide a safe service when the traffic comes back, and so the ANSPs must be kept solvent as well as the airlines.”

While the wellbeing of air traffic control teams is of paramount importance, many ANSPs have already introduced operational measures aimed at helping the industry as much as possible. These measures include removing constraints to shorten routes and maximise flight efficiency. They are also deploying cost containment measures but a decrease in revenue could significantly impair their ability to handle traffic safely and seamlessly when volumes pick up once again.

To ensure the industry to continue on both a resilient and sustainable path CANSO is calling on decision-makers and those in positions of authority to enable financial support for all industry stakeholders including ANSPs, airlines, airports and handling agents .