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

Despite the global concern over the rapid spread of the coronavirus – which this morning has been found partly to blame for the collapse of the troubled UK regional carrier Flybe – it’s a case of the show must go on this week in Addis Ababa where Aviation Africa is hosting its 5th summit, which has been well attended by delegates and exhibitors alike, including Regional Gateway.

Opening the summit on Wednesday 4 March, Ato Tewolde GebreMariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, commented: “Can you hear me at the back? Excuse my voice, I have the flu. But it’s only the flu…” However, he did also highlight the gravity of the current coronavirus outbreak describing it as “a huge challenge, but one that we have the capability to overcome.”

During my own travels over the past 14 days, which have seen me passing through air transport hubs in London, Los Angeles, Los Cabos and Addis Ababa, the growing anxiety among passengers has become increasingly apparent. There has been a steady rise in the number of passengers wearing masks and even surgical gloves as they move through the airport and particularly at security checkpoints. And you can’t purchase hand sanitiser for love nor money.

In some extreme cases a number of hubs including Noi Bai Airport in Vietnam and Ted Stevens Anchorage Airport in Alaska have been pictured with deserted check-in areas and baggage halls.

Admittedly the figures are worrying. More than 93,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus since it was first diagnosed at the end of 2019 and more than 3,000 people have died. But as Alan Peaford, Chairman of the Aviation Africa summit, recently pointed out, in the US last year an estimated 35.5 million people contracted influenza, while 34,200 people died. None of it is good news, but it’s important we maintain some perspective.

Under the theme ‘Creating a sustainable future for Africa’s aviation industry’, Peaford has been addressing challenges and opportunities affecting the continent during this week’s summit. In addition to the current outbreak and the impact it’s having with stakeholders across the aviation sector, this has also included the need to address capacity constraints, weak infrastructure, high taxes and poor connectivity, as well as how the industry is tackling climate change. The overriding message is that these are challenges the industry must face together in order to achieve a sustainable future.

I will also be moderating a panel on how African airports are addressing sustainable growth, which is more than just a question of facing up to the global climate emergency. It’s also about how airports are prioritising economic growth while generating social progress and ensuring safe, secure operations. A task that’s made all the more challenging by the impact of the current coronavirus outbreak.

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