Urgent support needed for UK airports following travel curbs

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Following the news at the end of last week that arrivals to the UK from all destinations will be required to quarantine in an effort to prevent the spread of any new variants of COVID, the country’s aviation sector is calling for more government support to survive another long period of travel curbs.

The Airport Operators Association’s (AOA’s) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, stated that: “The closure of travel corridors is understandable from a public health perspective but this adds to the current near-complete shutdown of the UK’s airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity. This is making a devastating situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.”

AOA is calling for the UK and devolved governments to urgently set out how they will support airports through this deepening crisis. “Business rate support, announced last year and in England not yet even open to applications, is no longer sufficient to ensure airports can weather the difficult months ahead,” Dee said.

With airports having to keep their infrastructure up and running to support vital and critical services, including freight, emergency services, military and coastguard flights, as well as offshore oil, gas and wind operations, which are essential to keeping the UK powered, they are doing so while running on empty.

“There is only so long they run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future. Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relieve from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year,” concluded Dee.

As of this morning all passengers arriving in the UK will need to quarantine for up to 10 days in an effort to prevent the spread of any new variants of COVID. They will also have to show proof of a negative test taken in the previous 72 hours before travelling. A ban on travellers from South America, Portugal and Cape Verde also come into effect on Friday, with scientists fearing the variants seen in Brazil and South Africa might interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines.

The UK Government has said a financial support scheme for airports in England will open this month with Aviation Minister, Robert Courts, saying the move was a response to the closure of all UK air corridors from Monday.

In a tweet Courts said that the Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme will “help airports reduce” additional costs faced due to the pandemic and that further details will follow soon.

The scheme will involve grants of up to £8m per applicant, to be used to cover fixed costs, such as business rates.

Allegiant Air’s service expansion includes three new hubs

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Allegiant Air is adding three new cities to its network  as part of a major  service expansion comprising 21 nonstop routes. Portland, Oregon; Key West in Florida and Jackson Hole in Wyoming, will all be added to the low-cost carriers’ schedule. Eight routes that were delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic are also included in the airline’s route newly-released schedule.

“Today, travellers are seeking destinations that allow them the chance to recreate in a safe way, usually outdoors,” said Drew Wells, Allegiant’s Vice President of Revenue and Planning. “The three cities we’re adding to our network – Key West, Portland and Jackson Hole – are gateways to some of the United States’ most scenic destinations, including national parks and other outdoor attractions that are in high demand.”

New links from Jackson Hole include Los Angeles, Phoenix Mesa Gateway, McCarran International Airport and Reno-Tahoe. From Key West, passengers will be able to fly with Allegiant to Nashville and Sanford International Airport in Orlando, and from Portland Allegiant links will include California’s Santa Maria and Monterey Regional airports, as well as Idaho Falls Regional Airport.

WestJet slashes capacity with knock-on effect on domestic hubs

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Following the Canadian government’s decision to introduce inbound testing and the continuation of the 14-day quarantine, WestJet has noted significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations on flights. Subsequently the airline has made further cuts to its schedule as it continues to face volatile demand and instability in the face of continuing federal government travel advisories and restrictions.

Cuts to the airline’s schedule include the elimination of more than 230 weekly departures (including 160 domestic) and the removal of more than 30% of capacity versus prior months. It will also include the suspension of 11 routes (Edmonton-Cancun, Edmonton-Puerto Vallarta, Edmonton-Phoenix, Vancouver-Cancun, Vancouver-Phoenix, Vancouver-Puerto Vallerta, Vancouver-Cabo, Vancouver-Los Angeles, Vancouver-Palm Springs, Calgary-Las Vegas, Calgary-Orlando).

Around 1,000 employees across the WestJet Group will also be impacted through a combination of furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leave and reduced hours. There will also be a hiring freeze implemented.

“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO in response to the government’s new testing regime. “We have advocated over the past 10 months for a coordinated testing regime on Canadian soil, but this hasty new measure is causing Canadian travellers unnecessary stress and confusion and may make travel unaffordable, unfeasible and inaccessible for Canadians for years to come,” Sims continued.

“Regrettably, this new policy leaves us with no other option but to again place a large number of our employees on leave, while impacting the pay of others,” he added.

The airline plans to remove approximately 30% of its currently planned February and March capacity from the schedule, a more than 80% reduction year on year. In addition, the airline will reduce domestic frequencies by 160 departures as frequently evolving advisories, travel restrictions and guidance continue to negatively impact demand trends.

Swedavia reports decrease of more than 30m passengers overall in 2020

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Swedish airport operator, Swedavia, has reported a decrease of 86% in passenger traffic across the 10 airports in its portfolio for December 2020. A total of just 408,000 passengers flew via its airports last month compared to 2,852,000 passengers during the same period in 2019.

In total last year saw a decrease in more than 30 million passengers (74%) compared to 2019, meaning air travel in Sweden during 2020 was back to levels last seen in the early 1980s.

“Air travel has been hit extremely hard by the pandemic and due to the escalating spread of COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions implemented, passenger volume decreased 86% in December,” said Jonas Abrahamsson, Swedavia’s President and CEO.

“The course of the pandemic, combined with new and expanded restrictions, is contributing to continued enormous uncertainty about the market situation in early 2021. The winter months are also always a seasonally weak period for air travel,” he continued.

Of the 408,000 total passengers that flew in December, 262,000 were international passengers, while 146,000 passengers were domestic travellers. In 2019 916,000 domestic passengers travelled through Swedavia’s airports during the same month.

While Abrahamsson admitted that he can see conditions in place for an “emerging normalisation and recovery in air travel in time for the summer season,” he also warned the performance of the air transport sector depends entirely on the pandemic and the major vaccination efforts now being made.  “So we also anticipate continued great uncertainty in terms of demand and expect the pandemic to have a significant impact on air travel this year as well,” he noted.

Swedavia’s seven regional airports saw passenger volume decrease between 68% and 92% to a total of 71,000 passengers in December. For the year, air travel overall decreased 70% to 1,664,000 passengers at the regional hubs compared to 5,491,000 travellers for the same period in 2019. The airport operator’s three primary hubs: Stockholm Arlanda, Göteborg Landvetter and Bromma Stockholm  all saw a decrease in passenger volumes of more than 85% during December, while the latter saw the biggest decrease both in December and the period January-December, with a decrease of 97% and 80% respectively.

Kiruna Airport and Luleå Airport were the two regional hubs that performed best in December and over the past 12 months, although demand was still limited at both airports.

 

Editor’s comment: What lies ahead?

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Although the end of 2020 brought with it a glimmer of hope following the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine being rolled out around the world and a post Brexit UK-EU trade deal being agreed, the new year has so far got off to a rocky start. New strains of the coronavirus (first detected in the UK and South Africa in December) have prompted dozens of travel bans and widespread concern about what this all means for countries around the world.

Many countries have already reacted by closing their borders and suspending commercial flights to restrict the spread of any new strains and, on Monday 4 January, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, declared another nation-wide lockdown until the end of February at the earliest with other countries also reintroducing or extending their own lockdowns. It՚s yet another devastating blow to airports and the aviation sector as a whole.

“While airports understand the public health reasons behind the renewed lockdown, it comes on top of the EU’s ban on UK nationals travelling to the EU for non-essential purposes,” said Karen Dee, the Airport Operators Association’s (AOA’s) Chief Executive.

“We are fast approaching a full twelve months of aviation being effectively shut down, with only limited support for UK airports provided to date,” she continued.

AOA is calling on the UK Government to step up its support for the aviation sector and to cover operational losses during the current heightened restrictions, as well as to extend all existing forms of support until aviation is able to operate free from the barriers that have prevented any meaningful recovery to date.

“The UK aviation industry will play a crucial role in enabling the country’s economic recovery and Global Britain, but can only do so if it gets the support necessary to get through the coming months and years,” Dee concluded.

And while Eamonn Brennan, EUROCONTROL’s Director General, is confident that the recovery will start to firm up in 2021 as the vaccine rolls out across the globe, he also warned that continued financial support is required across the aviation sector in the years ahead. “If we’re ready to ՙbuild back better՚ in 2021, we must start tackling core issues, such as the way the aviation system is financed, regulated and integrated,” he said.

It might not be quite the bright, shiny start to 2021 we had all hoped for, but now is certainly not the time to give up. It’s time to buckle up for the long road to recovery, but recover we will!

Otherwise, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year and please do get in touch if you’ve got a story you’d like to share.

Best wishes,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway

 

daa International named as operator of new Red Sea Airport

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Dublin Airport Authority (daa) International has been named as the operator of a new airport at Saudia Arabia’s Red Sea Development Project.

A major development project being built over 28,000 square km on Saudi Arabia’s west coast, the Red Sea Project has been billed as a luxury tourism destination. The first phase of the project, which includes the construction of the new airport, as well as up to 3,000 hotel rooms, recreational facilities and residential properties, is due to be completed by the end of 2022.

The Red Sea International Airport, which is being designed by architecture firm Foster + Partners, is set to serve one million passengers annually by the project’s completion in 2030, with a peak capacity of 900 passengers per hour.  The terminal has taken its inspiration from the local landscape and aims to provide a tranquil and memorable experience for passengers from the moment they arrive and aims to emulate the experience of a private aircraft terminal to every passenger.

A subsidiary of daa, which operates Dublin and Cork airports, daa International has been operating Terminal 5 at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, since it opened in 2016. As the operator of Saudi Arabia’s new airport it will provide airfield and terminal operations, aviation services, facilities management and it will oversee commercial activities, as well as corporate and financial services.

“Our state-of-the-art airport will provide a unique gateway for guests arriving at our destination, and this announcement is an important step in bringing the experience to life, ahead of welcoming visitors by the end of 2022,” said John Pagano, Chief Executive of TRSDC. “daa International was selected because we are confident that they can deliver not only an airport experience worthy of our luxury destination, but for their commitment to ensuring our sustainability goals are met.”

Nick Cole, Chief Executive daa International added: “The Red Sea International Airport will become a fundamental part of each visitor’s journey to this unique destination, and we believe their holiday experience should start from the moment they land. We intend to deliver a seamless airport experience for passengers, underpinned by a commitment to achieving the development company’s stringent sustainability goals.”

Stage one of managing the new airport’s operations will involve ensuring that all airport designs benefit the customer. Stage two will cover planning a full and seamless operational model for when the airport opens to the public, while the final stage will be to manage and operate this plan, maintaining the highest standards in customer experience and sustainability, while prioritising safety and security.

Construction of a runway, seaplane runway, taxiways, helipads and a road network for the airport is already well underway. On completion in 2030, the Red Sea Project will comprise 50 hotels, up to 8,000 hotel rooms and around 1,300 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway offers free COVID-19 testing for passengers

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Passengers travelling through Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport can now receive a free COVID-19 test when using the Arizona hub, through a partnership with the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS).

Tests are  performed by Paradigm Laboratories, a private third-party contractor, and are available with no insurance requirements. Results are available within 48 hours.

“Gateway Airport’s ‘Stay Healthy, Fly Safe’ initiative is designed to protect employees, airport tenants and the travelling public from the COVID-19 virus,” said Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Executive Director and CEO J. Brian O’Neill A.A.E. “The State of Arizona’s commitment to provide additional testing locations like the one at Gateway Airport will help reduce the spread of the virus until more of the population has an opportunity to receive the vaccine,” he continued.

Ticketed passengers can make an appointment prior to arriving at the airport either by visiting the Labfinder website, or by scanning the QR code found on COVID-19 testing directional signs throughout the airport.

“Paradigm Laboratories is a proud partner of AZDHA and we are happy to play a part in making sure visitors to Arizona are doing so in a safe and healthy manner,” said Dave Johnson, CEO of Paradigm Laboratories. “Our goal is to provide accurate results in the shortest timeframe possible and testing is one way we all can work together to slow the spread of the virus.”

Shanghai welcomes new link with Beijing

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Shanghai has welcomed a new link with Bejing courtesy of OTT Airlines, a newly-founded subsidiary business run by China Eastern Airlines (CEA). The regional carrier completed its maiden flight between the two cities on Monday 28 December, using an ARJ21, the first turbofan regional passenger jetliner produced by China, which can carry up to 90 passengers.

Until March 2021, OTT Airlines will fly the routes from Shanghai to Beijing, Nanchang, East China’s Jiangxi Province, Hefei, East China’s Anhui Province and Wenzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province. OTT Airlines currently has three ARJ21-700 jets, and is expected to receive another six in the next year eight more in 2022. In total, the fleet will include 35 ARJ21 jets by 2025.

The airline’s aim is to fly homegrown passenger jets in China’s mainland market, ARU21 and C919, both manufactured by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China will comprise the majority of the new carrier’s fleet.

The regional carrier is a welcome boost to the local economy with an operation team consisting of 15 pilots, 28 flight attendants, nine safety officers, two dispatchers and more than 30 engineers.

 

 

California’s Ontario Airport optimistic for 2021

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While the events of 2020 have wreaked havoc across the commercial aviation industry, Ontario Airport in Southern California has expressed a sense of optimism for the year ahead, based on encouraging signs from the last 12 months.

Between April and October the airport recorded six straight months of traffic growth, regaining almost 50% of passenger volume compared to 2019 figures. In addition airlines resumed or initiated new services from Ontario to five destinations in 2020, including Atlanta, Chicago (Midway), Houston (Intercontinental), Seattle and Mexico City. The airport also hosted a sold-out summer drive-in movie series and added app-based ride hail operator Wingz to its ground transportation programme to increase access to the airport.

“When 2020 began, Ontario was Southern California’s newest international aviation gateway and the fastest growing airport in the US, in just its fourth year under local control,” said Alan D. Wapner, Mayor pro Tem of the City of Ontario and President of the OIAA Board of Commissioners.

An attractive low-cost airport for commercial airlines, major e-commerce hub for air cargo shippers and a driver for the region’s economy, Ontario was the airport we’d hoped it would be just a few years ago. With the vision of our commission and the dedicated service of our staff, I can say unquestionably that Ontario holds as much much, if not more, promise today than it did before the pandemic. And as coronavirus vaccines become available to more Americans, I am optimistic we will see a return to more normal travel routines in 2021.

Significantly Ontario’s role as an air cargo destination took off in 2020, growing 20% year on year. In November, FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. completed a $100 million, two-year transformation of its Ontario operations, which now features a 251,000 sq. ft. complex incorporating a state-of-the-art sorting facility capable of handling 12,000 packages per hour, nine wide-body aircraft gates, 14 feeder aircraft gates and 18 truck docks.

The redevelopment of FedEx Express’s facility, along with a 30 year lease extension, sealed Ontario’s role as a major cargo hub in North America.

“We can never forget the pandemic’s toll on human life,” said Mark Thorpe, CEO of the OIAA. “Likewise we will always remember how we adjusted at Ontario Airport, challenged ourselves to adapt and collaborated with so many partners to ensure that travel through our international gateway is safe. We faced an unprecedented threat in 2020, and what we learned about our ability to persevere under the most difficult circumstances will serve our airport, our customers and the Inland Empire well as we move into 2021,” he concluded.

 

Editor’s comment: It’s a (no frills) wrap!

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With the countdown to the end of the year now in full swing, this is typically a time to reflect on the highs and lows of the past 12 months. And it’s fair to say there have been rather more lows than highs for many in the aviation sector, but that doesn’t mean we can’t finish 2020 on a festively positive note!

Following the recent roll out of Pfizer’s vaccine, this week has seen regional hubs around the world, including Gerald R. Ford Airport in the US, stepping up to the challenge of serving as gateway’s to transport the vaccine, which needs to be stored at -70°C throughout the transportation process. The first cargo plane carrying Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for domestic use departed the Michigan hub on 13 December and is expected to be the first of tens of thousands of shipments that will deliver the life-saving vaccine to locations around the world.

Meanwhile, according to PrivateFly’s annual Private Jet Charter trends report for 202o, its clients have flown between an impressive 648 airports this year, which according to PrivateFly CEO, Adam Twidell, is three to four times more than major airline route networks.

“2020 has certainly been an unusual year, but I’m very grateful that private aviation has not seen demand fall in quite the same way as airlines or other travel sectors,” said Twidell. “In fact at PrivateFly we have seen increased demand for private jet travel during the pandemic.”

He added that, “Private aviation has always offered the convenience of using smaller airports to get closer to your destination, but this year we’ve provided a huge number of bespoke routings, due to repatriations and other atypical itineraries.”

Twidell concluded that with vaccines now on the horizon, “travel confidence is increasing and while much of the usual business travel provided by our sector is still on hold, we are optimistic for continued growth in 2021”.

Although commercial airlines have struggled for survival amid the impact of the global pandemic, according to LIFT Airlines co-founder, Gidon Novick, there has never been a better time to launch a new carrier. The start-up South African low-cost airline serving key domestic routes from O. R. Tambo including Cape Town and George Airport, flew its maiden flight on 10 December.  Its aim is to fly in the face of the “outdated supply-drive, high-debt airline model. Instead it’s time for a demand-driven business model. One that’s super-efficient, leverages off record low input costs and is both agile and flexible,” said Novick.

And despite Australia’s international borders remaining closed, the country is experiencing a surge in domestic travel with airports across the country welcoming the news that Jetstar, the homegrown low-cost carrier, is set to operate more domestic flights in February and March 2021 than ever before.

As we wrap up this crazy and challenging year, there’s no doubt that 2020 has been a reset for the industry. Nonetheless, as airports and airlines are already demonstrating, there is plenty to be hopeful for in 2021.

On that note I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your support this year and to wish you happy holidays and a safe and prosperous 2020. The next Regional Gateway newsletter will be sent on 7 January, but you can still follow us online and on social media until then. In the meantime my parting gift to you for 2020 is the latest issue of Regional Gateway magazine, which is out now!

Best wishes,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway