The elephant in the room: Can insights from wildlife trafficking address other forms of smuggling?

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Many in the air transport sector have already stepped up as global leaders in the fight against wildlife trafficking, which may prove critical to helping mitigate the risk of future disease events and pandemics. As a result comprehensive training and protocols are already being adopted by airports, as well as airlines and enforcement agencies to combat wildlife trafficking. Now, a new brief Shared Skies, released by the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) has the potential to help strengthen not only how wildlife trafficking is addressed but the wider spectrum of transnational crime too.

The brief contains research under the ROUTES partnership, with insights into how illegal wildlife trade overlaps with other illicit trades such as drugs, weapons and counterfeit goods. It urges that wildlife trafficking should be brought into the bigger picture of transnational crime and gives guidance on how identifying the points of convergence between these two illicit trades can help aviation and enforcement agencies secure air transport from criminal activity.

Shared Skies identifies five levels at which convergence of illicit trades may occur: within the same shipment, coordinated by the same organisation, using the same routes, passing through the same hub (which includes airports), or travelling through the same jurisdiction. It also draws upon case studies of illicit convergence and crucially, advises on how this information can be leveraged to disrupt criminal activities and stop trafficking of various kinds.

The authors underline that criminals operating in black markets rely on the same vulnerabilities in transport networks, as well as in communications and finance. “Data on the convergence of illicit activity at each level can be leveraged to shed light on transnational trafficking operations,” said Ben Spevack, lead author and senior analyst at C4DS (which produced the brief). “Improved sharing of convergence data amongst counter-trafficking stakeholders would increase collective capacity to secure the aviation industry from illicit activity,” he continued.

Data collated on trafficking through the airports and the wider aviation sector found a high rate of convergence between wildlife and other forms of illicit trade.

Michelle Owen, ROUTES lead said, “The findings indicate that wildlife trafficking should be treated as an integral part of the bigger picture of transnational crime. Approaching the issue in singularity inhibits counter-trafficking efforts across the whole spectrum of illicit trades, all of which threaten national security, human well-being and contribute towards corruption.”

She added that “making anti-wildlife trafficking efforts part of protocol can bolster other counter-trafficking efforts in many ways and vice-versa.” Shared Skies’ five-level framework helps outline the unique trends and vulnerabilities that each convergence level offers and gives recommendations on how this information can be applied. As an example it underlines that the emergence of a convergent trafficking hub may warrant more staff training, improved scanning technology or the removal of an insider threat.

“For instance, training aviation staff to recognise and report a wildlife trafficking attempt can result in seizures of other contraband: perhaps within the same shipment, or perhaps by uncovering an organisation that deals in other illicit trades too,” noted Owen.

Stressing the importance of a holistic approach, the brief urges customs and other enforcement authorities to increase their public reporting and accessibility to seizure data in order to build a more complete picture of transnational crime, identify more trends and direct mitigation efforts where most needed. It also calls for greater collaboration across law enforcement and the private sector to identify criminal convergence and for the development of mitigation strategies that address all commodity types.


Climate neutrality on the horizon for Munich Airport

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Munich Airport was one of the first airports in Germany to sign this ‘net zero carbon’ resolution, after more than 200 European airports pledged in 2019 to deliver net zero airport CO2 emissions by 2050.

The German hub has been following an ambitious climate action strategy since 2009 and has been systematically reducing its CO2 emissions year after year with the aim of achieving CO2-neutral airport operations by no later than 2030. Between now and 2030 Munich Airport is investing a total of €150 million to help it achieve its climate targets. Now the airport has welcomed a strategy paper from European aviation associations, which was presented to the European Commission in Brussels at the end of last week and which details a roadmap to making sustainable aviation a reality for airports, airlines, aerospace manufacturers and air traffic controllers.

While passenger numbers in Munich rose from 28.6 million in 2005 to 48 million in 2019, CO2 emissions per passenger were reduced by 46% in the same period. To achieve the set target of CO2-neutral airport operations by 2030, between now and then the CO2 emissions attributable to the airport will be progressively reduced by 60% and the remaining 40% offset through compensatory measures.

The airport has already successfully implemented 280 individual measures, including investing substantially in expanding electric mobility. It already has a 38% share of electric and hybrid vehicles and was one of the first airports to switch all of its apron lighting to energy-saving LED technology, which reduced energy costs considerably.

Jost Lammers, CEO of Munich Airport and president of ACI Europe, considers both the European aviation industry to be well on the way toward climate neutrality. “Regardless of the enormous challenges we are currently facing due to the global pandemic and its consequences, the development toward sustainable air transport remains our most important project for the future. With the initiative launched at European level and the extensive measures we have already implemented or initiated in Munich, we can also achieve our ambitious goals.”

Editor’s comment: Automation acceleration

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While aviation remains under extreme pressure amid the global pandemic, what weʼre seeing now is a confirmed recovery phase, according to David Lavorel, CEO of Airports and Borders at SITA.

Speaking during a media briefing to present its 2020 Air Transport IT Insights on Tuesday 23 February, Lavorel said the lack of passenger traffic over the past 12 months had refocused spending priorities for airports. The report’s key findings show that there has been an accelerated investment in automated passenger processing solutions, with the industry focusing on touchless and mobile services in response to COVID. There is also a spotlight on virtual and remote IT services to accommodate the need to work from home and more efficient IT operations to help ramp up communications with passengers. Cybersecurity and cloud services also remain vital areas for investment.

Lavorel pointed out that 89% of airports are currently investing in automated check-in solutions, while self-bag-drop solutions continue to be a rising trend, with 79% of airlines working towards enabling this technology in airports.

As one of the newer trends brought about in response to lockdowns, virtual IT operations have seen greater investment, with 84% of airports investing in this area. Meanwhile, more than 90% of airports plan to invest in more efficient IT operations, and 87% of airports are focused on business intelligence and exploiting their data for better operational decisions.

“The COVID crisis has accelerated a number of trends that were already present. In particular, thereʼs been a strong push for automation and data-based collaboration between industry players,” said Lavorel. “And we see investments being made that are going to be important in managing the crisis and recovery period, but that will also lead to more efficient, better passenger-friendly operations.”

But is there a fear that regional airports and cash-strapped smaller airports will be left behind when it comes to the wider roll-out of automated and touchless passenger processing solutions?

“It’s a question thatʼs certainly in need of attention,” said Lavorel,  as he explained that SITA is already working on a range of solutions to cater for different sized facilities and budgets. “We’re developing a number of products that bolt-on and build on existing IT assets that airports have already invested in,” he said. SITA’s President Europe, Sergio Colella, added: “In addition to making best use of an airport’s existing infrastructure, itʼs also about leveraging the cloud architecture.”

As the industry turns its attention to new automated technologies, itʼs vital that no airport is left behind, but that new solutions deliver consistent improvements to the passenger experience no matter which airport they start or finish from!

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

Chloë Greenbank,
Editor, Regional Gateway.

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).

Latest traffic data shows how recovery needs to accelerate before airports run out of money

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Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s latest traffic report reveals the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Europe’s airports. Passenger traffic decreased by -64.2% during the first half of the year, almost coming to a complete standstill in Q2 with a drop of -96.4% compared to the same period in 2019.

The report also shows that in the first half of the year non-EU airports were slightly less impacted (-59.8% compared to -65.6% for their EU counterparts) thanks to domestic traffic. This mostly reflected less stringent lockdowns in several non-EU countries and domestic air services being less affected than international ones.

During June, Moscow-Domodedovo became the busiest European airport with 716,800 passengers. London Heathrow, which normally holds the top spot, came down to the 11th position, handling just over 350,700 passengers compared to 7.24 million in June last year.

Disruptions in rankings were widespread across the airport league – a reflection of the lack of alignment between European States in lifting travel restrictions. UK airports also significantly lagged behind their peers in June due to the overly restrictive and untargeted travel restrictions enacted by the British Government. London Gatwick dropped from the 10th position last year to the 92nd position; Manchester from the 18th to the 73rd position; London Stansted from the 24th position to the 59th position; Birmingham from the 48th position to the 125th; and Newcastle from 93rd to the 170th.

Followign the tentative coordination of the lifting of travel restrictions at EU level as of mid-June, the traffic recovery has been slower than expected. As a result, passenger traffic across the European airport network still declined by -78% in July compared to the same month last year. This translated into an additional 208 million passengers lost, bringing the total passenger loss since the start of the year at 969 million.

The past two weeks have seen further deceleration in the pace of recovery. This is due to several states re-imposing travel restrictions and in particular the UK’s abrupt decision to require passengers returning from Spain to quarantine.

Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe’s Director General commented: “The recovery is far too slow-paced and uncertain. Despite desperate efforts to trim down their costs Europe’s airports are burning cash at the height of the summer. Revenues are weak because of the combination of low volumes with rebates and incentives to airlines to attract and incentivise air traffic.” He also warned that, “Considering the seasonality of demand, this does not bode well for the coming months. If the recovery does not accelerate significantly, many airports will simply run out of money.”

UK airports to suffer a £4 billion loss in 2020

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The full impact of the coronavirus pandemic on UK airports is proving utterly devastating.

According to the Airport Operators Association (AOA), during the first four months of the pandemic UK airports lost just under £2 billion, the equivalent of more than £150 million per day, or more than £10,000 per minute.

The group predicts that collectively its member airports will lose at least £4 billion in revenue by the end of 2020. This doesn’t account for the multiplier effect on the businesses and wider community within an airport’s catchment.

“These projections reinforce the significant challenges that UK airports continue to face after the worst four months in the history of commercial aviation,” said Karen Dee, AOA’s Chief Executive.

“Whilst we have seen passengers begin to return, passenger numbers are not expected to reach pre-Covid levels for a considerable period and airports will continue to face challenges and pressures unimaginable six months ago,” she continued.

A case in point is Exeter Airport, which despite the Channel Islands-based carrier Blue Islands starting new routes, and leisure carrier TUI restarting its summer holiday programme from 1 August, is cutting jobs. The airport – part of the Regional and City Airports group which also owns and operates Bournemouth, Coventry and Norwich Airports – blames the economic fallout from the coronavirus health crisis for changing the way it must operate. It is understood that 96 jobs will go with those affected employed in a range of roles. They include baggage handlers, air traffic control, ground crew, security and the fire station.

To prevent further job losses and support the sector through the unprecedented crisis, the AOA alongside CEOs of UK airports have written to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeking relief from business rates payments for 2020-2021; additional support with employment costs beyond the October end of the coronavirus job retention scheme; funding for the Civil Aviation Authority for the 2020-2021 charging period; and a suspension of Air Passenger Duty (APD) for at least six months to stimulate increased airline activity.

Stating that airports have done everything in their power to weather the storm without specific government support afforded to other sectors, Dee said that the loss of close to £2 billion during the lockdown should serve as a wakeup call to Government. “It should lead them to finally grasp the severity of the challenge and threat that the pandemic has posed and continues to pose to the sector.”

We cannot have a full national economic recovery without a thriving aviation sector; airports are essential components of Britain’s ambition to be a global trading nation and form a vital network for economic stimulus across the UK, levelling up the regions. These figures show that it is high time that the government acts with urgency and supports airlines through the biggest challenge that they have ever faced.

Karen Dee, Chief Executive, Airport Operators Association (AOA).

Domestic and short-haul travel crucial for aviation’s recovery

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Although recent weeks have seen an increase in flight bookings for European destinations such as Greece, Portugal an Spain for July and August, travel to Europe is expected to be 54% lower in 2020 compared to 2019 according to the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) latest quarterly report “European Tourism: Trends and Prospects”.

The report also notes that tourism as we once knew it has ceased to exist. Successful recovery lies in embracing digitalisation and leveraging new technologies to adapt to the ‘new normal’ as well as shifts in consumer behaviour. It also highlights that sustainability will be key in building back a better, more resilient and more competitive sector.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact across the sector,” said Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of ETC. “We have been talking for so long about sustainable growth, climate change, digitalisation and innovation, this is an opportunity to press the reset button, challenge pre-established models and finally take all these matters seriously,” he added.

To minimise the knock-on effects of the outbreak caused by COVID-19, countries across Europe are starting to reopen economies and limit the financial fallout from the pandemic by stimulating tourism and salvaging the summer holiday season.

ETC’s report states that the impact of the global health crisis is becoming clear with European tourism growth expected to remain below 2019 levels until 2023. During the first four months of 2020, Europe saw a dramatic 44% decline in international tourist arrivals compared to the same period in 2019. Data reported by destinations to the months of April/ May reflect the level of disruption caused by the pandemic. Croatia (-86%) and Cyprus (-78%) saw the biggest declines reflecting the sizeable losses of key source markets, such as Italy and the UK.

From January to May 2020, the latest data shows a -96.9% decline in bookings to Europe across all subregions when compared with the same period last year. However, on a positive note, classic summer holiday destinations such as Greece, Portugal and Spain are showing an uptick in flight bookings throughout July and August.

Underlining that the likelihood of a stable and quick recovery of travel demand is likely to be greater for destinations that rely more heavily on domestic and short-haul travellers, the report suggests that global recovery will depend on economic factors and the speed with which travel restrictions are lifted and the risk aversion of potential travellers.

The average share of domestic travellers is at 44.5% within European country destinations, while short-haul arrivals amount for 77$ of all travellers. Combining both arrivals from within the country and reliance on short-haul travel, Germany, Norway and Romania are the most resilient and likely to be quicker and more stable in their recovery. Meanwhile, Iceland, Montenegro and Croatia which all rely heavily on international demand and only have small domestic tourism markets score the lowest with the greater risk in recovery.

Santander concluded: “We must the recovery from this terrible situation to accelerate the transformation and shift to the tourism of tomorrow.”