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

Gloucestershire Airport in UK appoints new Managing Director

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Gloucestershire Airport in the UK has appointed Karen Taylor as the airport’s new Managing Director. The new role will take effect immediately.

The strategic location of the airfield is key to helping drive the county’s economic development ambitions and is ideally placed near to the cyber development at Golden Valley and Gloucester’s digital campus, The Forum. As such it plays a key role in supporting the local economy, both as a travel gateway and as a base for a range of businesses, including engineering, aerospace plus charter flights, flight training, and leisure flights.

Prior to her new role as Managing Director, Taylor served as the Interim Managing Director and Commercial Finance Director  and has played an integral role in developing the long-term vision for the airport. She has been instrumental in securing funding for runway improvement works and other critical capital improvements that will boost the airport’s status as a ‘gateway for growth’ and will be key to driving the airport’s development.

Commenting on her new role, Taylor said: “Gloucestershire Airport is a unique and important asset for the country. I firmly believe we have a strong foundation to develop the airport into a ‘gateway for growth’ for the many significant developments being brought forward across the region; a destination of choice providing connectivity to and from national and international destinations; and a centre of excellence for all aspects of business aviation, aviation training and other related activity.”

In line with the airport’s long-term vision for growth as a sustainable business, the regional hub is embarking on a programme of activity that will create around 1,520 jobs and enable airport improvements. This includes the new CGX Connect business park development, which has been submitted for planning consent to Tewkesbury Borough Council.

“Business growth at the airport means more choice and better services for existing airport users and will encourage individuals and businesses from across the region to realise the value of having a regional airport they can use for business and leisure right on their doorstep,” Taylor added.

The new development will also support the Airport to identify and deliver projects embracing alternative clean energy supplies and green technologies to help reduce carbon footprint, while also underpinning a long-term commitment to attract and promote associated aviation related environmental research and development.

heathrow test and release

Editor’s comment: A step in the right direction

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heathrow test and release

Airports across the UK have this week breathed a collective sigh of relief following the announcement that from 15 December the UK Government will reduce the 14-day period of self-isolation to five days for international arrivals, on receipt of a negative COVID-19 test.

The Government has also introduced financial support designed to provide commercial airports and ground handlers in England with relief equivalent to their business rate costs, capped at £8 million per site.

A spokesperson for Doncaster Sheffield Airport described the news as, “A step in the right direction for what has been a punishing year for airports.”

While passengers will be expected to meet the costs of getting a COVID-19 test themselves, one of Doncaster’s biggest operators Wizz Air is offering passenger discounts on COVID tests. “We are committed to getting the UK flying safely again,” said Wizz Air UK’s Managing Director, Owain Jones. “So it is with great excitement that we announce our partnership with Confirm Testing, through which our customers can secure the necessary testing services at a specially discounted price.”

Andrew Bell, Chief Executive of Regional and City Airports (which owns and operates Bournemouth, Coventry, Norwich and Exeter airports) added:

These announcements are a much-needed boost as aviation looks to bounce back from the greatest challenge it has ever faced, with regional airports having been amongst the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic… We will continue to lobby hard and work with Government on what other steps can be taken to safeguard the UK’s regional airports.

However, while the Government’s policy on financial support has been welcomed by smaller airports in England, not all airports will see full business rates relief. The UK’s primary hub, London Heathrow – one of the UK’s largest business rates payers, with an annual bill of around £120 million – is a case in point.

John Holland-Kaye, CEO at London Heathrow, underlined that the business rates grants for English airports fails to provide any significant relief for larger airports, which are so crucial to providing the international connectivity needed by the UK after Brexit.

“The proposed reduction in business rates for Heathrow is only 7%, compared to an 82% reduction in passengers,” he said, explaining that despite suffering a £1.5 billion loss in the first nine months of this year, Heathrow will continue to pay a large majority of this sum, as a result of the Government failing to assess the contribution paid by airports on a case by case basis.

“Small airports in England, and all airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland have had a 100% waiver from business rates. The Government’s proposed approach is discriminatory against large airports, and we will now carefully consider our next steps,” Holland-Kaye concluded.

While not music to the ears of all airports, the UK Government’s announcement will certainly go some way to supporting high fixed-operating costs for regional hubs that have seen more than an 80% reduction in passenger traffic, resulting in a catastrophic loss of revenue.

Enjoy your weekend and remember to register for your complimentary copy of the December issue of Regional Gateway magazine by subscribing here.

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway

AOA AGM Airport panel

Editor’s comment: Are the storm clouds finally clearing?

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AOA AGM Airport panel

It would seem that for aviation (and the world at large), hope is finally on the horizon following promising news on the COVID-19 vaccine front. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech’s announcement that early study results indicated their vaccine was more than 90% effective in protecting people from the virus that causes COVID-19, sent airline stocks soaring. Eurocontrol’s Director General, Eamonn Brennan, described the vaccine breakthrough as “encouraging”, saying it “could have a huge impact on aviation”.

Speaking at the Airport Operator Association’s (AOA’s) AGM on Monday 9 November, the UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, stated that, “The primary solution has to be getting passengers flying again safely, ideally through a vaccine, but before that through effective testing.” He also committed to a new ‘test and release’ scheme for UK airport operators that will start once the nation’s current lockdown is over (2 December) to allow a “much reduced period of self isolation” for those arriving in the UK. “Beyond the lockdown,” he said, “this should encourage people to book flights with confidence.”

Referencing the critical role that the UK’s regional airports play both in the country’s economic recovery and in providing regions with an identity and a sense of pride, Jim McMahon, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, argued that “Government must do more to support these vital hubs.” He also underlined there hasn’t been enough cross-governmental support between European countries, as he stated that: “Frankly, the UK Government has been too late in coming to the table on this and leading the way especially for airports.”

Robert Sinclair, CEO of London City Airport, described current quarantine regulations as a “patchwork quilt of travel restrictions that are crippling the industry”. However, he was also cautiously optimistic about the future, saying: “Demand is there for air travel, we saw that in July when travel restrictions were relaxed… But harmonised departure protocols must be put in place.” Rob Bishton, Director of Safety and Airspace Regulation at the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, agreed that until a vaccine is in place “testing is the progressive solution that can be used to avoid repeating the same problems for aviation next year as we’ve had this year”.

Meanwhile, Karen Smart, Managing Director at Manchester Airport, said that not enough support is being offered to airports.  “They are high cost businesses. You can’t just furlough staff, shut the doors and say costs have gone away. But our government has failed to recognise that and provide adequate support.”

Gatwick’s CEO, Stewart Wingate, gave a nod to the need to ‘build back better’ with a sustainable aviation industry. “We want to see increased production and supply of sustainable aviation fuel, and we want to work alongside government in developing clear strategies for the use of hydrogen and electric technologies.” Echoing this message, Derek Provan, CEO at AGS Airport Group (which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports), also believes that the industry will grow and build back better as we start to focus on the future.

The messaging was similar at the African Airline Association’s (AFRAA’s) AGM, where Ali Tounsi, the Secretary General for Airports Council International (ACI) Africa said that overall passenger traffic in 2020 will be down 60%, costing the industry US$2.6 billion. He urged local governments to support their airports and alleviate the financial impact of the pandemic through measures, such as waiving airport concession fees, providing loans and grants, as well as tax relief for the aviation sector and help with the cost of public health measures in airports.

Tounsi also called for wider collaboration and cooperation between airports, airlines and regulators. “They must be united in their view that a consistent approach to testing passengers is key to restoring passenger confidence, as well as preventing border closures and quarantine restrictions that have slowed Africa’s aviation recovery.” While contactless solutions involving biometric and self-service technology will be integral to the future of African airports and reducing the risk of virus transmission, the cost of rolling out new technologies in this area will be prohibitive for some airports and especially Africa’s smaller regional hubs.

However, like his European counterparts, Tounsi concluded: “I remain positive about the future. Airports are vital to aviation’s ecosystem and they will play an integral role in the global economic recovery.”

Much of 2020 has been a tale of two halves. It’s been about battening down the hatches to survive the storm, but also about resilience and optimism that once this pandemic is over the industry will recover as quickly as it can, so long as the appropriate measures are in place.

Have a great weekend,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway

Header image: From right to left – Karen Dee, AOA; Rob Bishton, CAA; Derek Provan, AGS Group; Stewart Wingate, Gatwick Airport; Karen Smart, Manchester Airport; Robert Sinclair, London City Airport.

Airports propose plan for EU and government support

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On behalf of airports across Europe, the industry trade body Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has called on the European Commission to urgently adopt an EU Recovery Framework for Aviation and for governments to provide the requisite funding to support airports – and the recovery of air connectivity.

With second lockdowns and travel restrictions now in place in countries across Europe the financial situation for airports is only expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

And while sustained air freight traffic remains a bright financial spot for airlines, its impact on airports is marginal, as the bulk of their revenues is linked to and dependent upon passenger traffic. In addition, airports, unlike airlines, do not get advance revenues as they are only paid after the services is provided and their facilities used. And while airlines have benefitted from more than €31.8 billion in financial aid from European Governments, the support extended to airports has been limited to €840 million.

“Large scale job losses and insolvency are no longer worst case projections for Europe’s airports,” said Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe’s Director General. “We’re already looking down the barrel of the gun, and the crisis continues to deepen. The situation requires urgent and decisive action with an ad hoc Recovery Framework for Aviation at EU level enabling support beyond 2021 and governments providing financial support accordingly. That should include as a priority extending supportive employment schemes for all staff working at airports, compensating airports for lost revenues and supporting the rebuilding of air connectivity up to 2023.”

The European Commission has extended its Temporary Framework enabling EU States to support the companies affected by the pandemic until June 2021. However, ACI Europe argues this is insufficient to address the devastating and lasting impact of COVID-19 on aviation and on airports in particular. ACI Europe is requesting that this Temporary Framework should be extended to the end of 2021 and must be supplemented by a Recovery Framework for Aviation.

The latter should include compensation for damages due to COVID-19 remaining available for airports as long as travel restrictions by Member States are prevent the recovery of air traffic. There also needs to be a common framework allowing States to establish Air Connectivity Restart Schemes. These targeted and time limited schemes would allow support for the resumption of air routes suspended due to the pandemic until 2023 through a degressive per passenger contribution – on a non-discriminatory basis.

In addition Emergency Public Service Obligation orders should remain in place until the end of 2021 and immediate and longer-term adjustments to the 2014 Aviation State aid guidelines should be made to extend the possibility for airports to receive both operating and investment aid – with a particular focus on the financing of climate action and sustainability projects.

London City Airport calls for Global Travel Taskforce to take decisive action

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Robert Sinclair, London City Airport’s CEO has urged the new Global Travel Taskforce to move quickly to get business air travel back up and flying again. He said that he hoped the group would “acknowledge the fundamental importance of business air travel to the economic recovery prospects of the UK and other sectors such as hospitality and leisure.”

Prior to the pandemic data shows that the UK’s domestic aviation sector contributed £15 billion to the UK economy. New polling shows that demand for air travel among UK business leaders continues to be widespread. A new report by WPI strategy reveals the majority of UK business leaders see air travel as key to their future economic prospects and would return to the skies if quarantine measures were eased.

With 515 business leaders the report revealed that 88% of business leaders with more than 250 employees believe air travel is important to the future success of their business. Meanwhile 48% thought the government’s travel and quarantine restrictions were the single biggest barrier to business air travel, while 76% believe that airport testing would increase confidence when travelling.

“The UK aviation industry is the third largest in the world and a global success story,” said Sinclair. “But it is not just an industry itself, it also acts as an enabler of other industries such as trade, tourism, hospitality, imports, exports and conferences. We know that the demand for air travel is there, but restrictive quarantine measures are currently holding business leaders back from flying, and the UK economy from beginning its recovery.”

He added that he hoped the Global Travel Taskforce moves quickly to introduce a roadmap for aviation which sets out how a testing regime can be implemented quickly.  “Doing so could deliver a much-needed shot in the arm for business air travel, boosting economic growth across every region and every sector.”

Warner Rootliep, Managing Director of KLM Cityhopper echoed Sinclair’s comments saying: “KLM has a long standing commitment to serve the UK regions. We have rebuilt our regional presence in the UK over the last few months, reopening all routes. Connecting the UK regions to the world through our hub in AMS is of vital importance to the regional economy of these communities, especially in these challenging times… We hope the Taskforce will be able to define a roadmap that will allow us to eliminate the quarantine measures and reinstall travel confidence so that we can continue to rebuild our regional frequencies that is so vital for the regional economy.”

Australia’s Newcastle Airport in race to secure funding for runway upgrade

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Following the absence last week of a Federal Government budget announcement, Newcastle Airport in Australia remains cautiously optimistic that it will secure funding for its $65 million upgrade to the runway it accesses from RAAF Base Williamtown.

The project will see the runway upgraded to Code E status, which would allow wide-bodied, long-haul aircraft to access the airport and connect the region and northern New South Wales to the rest of the world.

The runway upgrade needs to be delivered in conjunction with scheduled $115 million Defence maintenance work which is due to start in June 2021 and is slated for completion in November 2022. Subsequently, additional funding for the runway upgrade project needs to be confirmed before the next budget cycle, with a stop date in the first quarter of next year. Failure to do so could see the airport waiting until the next RAAF upgrade in 20 years time.

Although no specific funding has been announced for the project, there have been a number of significant infrastructure and regional funding pools announced, which the airport is confident apply to its upgrade project. Newcastle Airport CEO, Dr Peter Cock said he was hopeful the airport would be able to access some of the funding earmarked in the budget for regional infrastructure.

“I remain confident that the Federal Government understands the importance of this project for the region and the nation,” he said.

He added that upgrading the runway will provide confidence and hope at a time when it is most needed and will deliver tangible benefits. “From local tourism operators and hospitality owners to agricultural producers and freight and logistics providers, this project will drive significant jobs and huge economic return  well into the future.”

As such, Dr Cock also asserted that the airport “Will be working hard and engaging with other regional leaders to put together a compelling case as to why this project should be top on the list of projects to be funded. Doing so will ultimately add £12 billion to the regional economy and provide 4,000 full-time jobs. That is a huge amount of potential that is currently untapped.”

Vinci Airports trials world first contactless solution at Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport

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French airport operator, Vinci Airports, has selected IDEMIA and Resa Airport Data Systems (RESA) to trial a world first – a wholly contactless and biometrics-based passenger experience in Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport. The new system will initially be available at the French hub for Transavia and TAP flights to Portugal.

“We are thrilled to launch MONA today, a world first, at a time when airports need game-changing innovations so they can give passengers an even safer, more enjoyable and personalised experience,” said Vinci Airports France & Americas Director Valérie Vesque-Jeancard.

The remote smartphone-based passenger biometric registration gives passengers a smoother, contactless end to end solution from ID registration until they board the aircraft. The process starts at home with passengers registering their faces at home using Mona, Lyon Airport’s smartphone app. Passenger registration is secured by a biometric match between their smartphone-based face and scans of their ID document and boarding card. Described as a ‘totally accurate and reliable identity management system’ IDEMIA’s solution enables passengers to speed through all identity control points without having to show their travel documents.

Philippe Barreau, IDEMIA Executive VP Identity and Public Safety, explained that, “This trial harnesses contactless biometric technology that gives users an unrivalled airport experience without letting up one jot on security. This bears out our capacity to constantly innovate to safeguard passenger trust and help pave the way for even smoother and more secure future travel.”

As a leading biometric security solutions market leader IDEMIA has partnered with leading airport systems integrator RESA. The latter’s automatic and biometric compact gate dubbed Major eGate, (which also caters for passengers with disabilities), comes with an integrated camera that allows travellers to pass through to the security restricted area and then board the aircraft based merely on facial recognition.

“Current Covid restrictions forced us to rethink how to take care of passengers and their interactions with airport security staff and equipment,” said RESA CEO Renaud Willard. “The biometric trial underway at Lyon Airport was made possible by French industrial collaboration, whereby hi-tech saved the day despite the current pandemic and economic crisis. We have shown here that passengers can pass through airport checks fully contactless and without handing over paper documents while shoring up security to boot.”

RESA’s IATA-certified CUPPS system means that as well as being universal and secure, IDEMIA’s solution works on all airline systems. However, while France’s national authority responsible for data privacy (CNIL) has recommended this new service to safeguard passenger data and rights, it is still subject to formal CNIL approval.

Shell and Red Rock sign agreement to increase SAF distribution

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In line with efforts to increase the distribution of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), Shell has entered into an agreement with Red Rock Biofuels to purchase SAF and cellulosic renewable diesel fuel from its new biorefinery in Lakeview, Oregon.

Shell plans to distribute the SAF to Red Rock’s existing airline customers.

“SAF is crucial to aviation’s success in reaching net zero emissions by 2050, alongside new technologies and high-quality carbon credits,” said Anna Mascolo, President of Global Aviation at Shell. “But to enable SAF to fulfil its potential we need to be proactive and resolute in finding opportunities to increase availability of SAF today and tomorrow.”

She added that an increase in SAF is dependent on, “collaboration across the whole value chain.”

Red Rock’s refinery is scheduled for completion in early 2021. Once operational, it will be the world’s first commercial scale plant to utilise waste woody biomass from forests at risk of wildfire to create SAF and cellulosic renewable diesel.

“This has been one of the most devastating wildfire seasons on record,” said Terry Kulesa, CEO of Red Rock. “We have seen wildfires grow in intensity, acreage, and damage to public health and the environment. One of the many potential benefits of this plant is to reduce the waste woody biomass lying on the forest floor which may help to mitigate the spread of wildfires.”

Referencing the new partnership, Kulesa also commented: “With its operational capabilities and global supply chain expertise, Shell is ideally positioned to support us in helping make low-carbon SAF more widely available to airlines who are committed to reducing emissions and tackling climate change.”

In general, lifecycle carbon emissions from SAF and cellulosic renewable diesel are expected to be up to 80% lower than conventional jet fuel. The SAF will be supplied to airports through existing airport infrastructure and can be used blended by airlines without technical modification to their current fleet.

charlotte douglas

Editor’s comment: It’s safe to fly

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charlotte douglas

As it looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest challenges for the global aviation community has been the need to restore passenger confidence.

Whether it’s in the terminal building or onboard an aircraft, airports and airlines are constantly battling against concern from passengers over the risk of disease transmission. This is further exacerbated by haphazard, restrictive international travel bans and blanket quarantines.

So, it’s welcome news that after a six-month analysis of the air travel industry’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Flight Safety Foundation has concluded that industry efforts have succeeded in greatly reducing the possibility of transmission in airports and on aircraft.

“The latest evidence shows that airports and aircrafts have very low levels of transmission,” said Dr Hassan Shahidi, Flight Safety Foundation’s CEO and President (pictured). He added that, “With the health and safety measures that airlines, airports and security personnel have now put in place, the risk of contracting this virus appears extraordinarily low, much lower than in other public places.”

International airport health accreditation programmes, improved cleaning and disinfection procedures and technologies, as well as contactless check-in and other self-service solutions, and socially distant boarding and deplaning procedures are all credited with enhancing health safety.

Given the “extraordinary measures” that have been implemented, Dr Shahidi underlined that, “the travelling public should have increased confidence to fly”.

With a bleak winter looming, we all (media included) have a role to play in sharing that it’s safe to fly and in keeping pressure on governments to introduce universally accepted testing standards – the UK Government’s commitment to implementing a testing system for international travel is a welcome first step. We also need to keep looking forward and hope that the industry’s recovery picks up speed in the new year.

Enjoy your weekend,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway.