European airports report slow recovery

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With only a marginal increase in traffic for June European airports have revised their recovery projection to 2024.

Passenger traffic across Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s network stood at -93% in June compared to the same period last year – a marginal improvement over May which saw a -98% movement in passenger traffic. Compared with the 240 million passengers travelling through their doors in June 2019, Europe’s airports only welcomed 16.8 million passengers in June 2020.

“It’s a slower pace than we’d hoped for,” says ACI Europe Director General, Olivier Jankovec.

The initial data for July also indicates we’re likely to recover only 19% of last year’s traffic rather than the 30% we had forecast. This is down to the still incomplete lifting of travel restrictions within the EU/ Schengen area and the UK – as well as the permanence of travel bans for most other countries. The fact that EU and Schengen states have nto yet managed to effectively coordinate and align over their travel policies does not help, as it is not conducive to restoring confidence in travel and tourism in the middle of the peak summer season.

In its revised traffic forecast, ACI Europe is now predicting that a full recovery in passenger traffic to 2019 levels is now expected for 2024, rather than 2023 as per the previous forecast issued in May. It also notes that Europe’s airport’s are set to lose -1.57 million passengers in 2020, a decrease of -64% compared to the previous year with airport revenues set to decrease by -€32.4 billion in 2020.

ACI also highlights that airport revenues are being significantly impacted by the fact that reinstated flights are generally achieving low load factors, with passenger volumes trailing behind flight numbers. While airport operating costs are driven by aircraft movements, the bulk (76%) of their revenues come from passengers (through passenger charges for the use of their facilities and passenger-driven commercial revenues – in particular retail).

“The financial situation of airports is not significantly improving… Considering that the peak summer season normally accounts for a large share of annual revenues and the fact that the temporary unemployment schemes are coming to an end in many EU States liquidity will remain an on-going concern through the winter. Many airports, especially smaller regional airports, will need financial relief,” said Jankovec.

Editor’s comment: In recovery mode

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Virgin Atlantic, which was recently at risk of entering into administration, has this week unveiled a £1.2 billion rescue deal that is expected to salvage thousands of aviation jobs. The airline has reached a funding agreement with key financial stakeholders, making it one of the first users of a new court-sanctioned process introduced as part of government reforms to enable smoother corporate restructurings during the pandemic.

While the rescue package has removed the risk of the airline collapsing into administration in the medium term,Virgin Atlantic is still cutting around a third of its work force. It has also ceased flights from London Gatwick as part of its restructuring plans. It will instead concentrate its UK operations out of London Heathrow and Manchester with flight schedules due to restart on 20 July.

This week has also seen Budapest Airport in Hungary welcome growing passenger numbers and new routes, while Brisbane Airport in Australia has inaugurated its second runway. And, having welcomed Blue Islands as a new carrier last week, Southampton Airport in the UK is now calling for its local community, businesses and organisations to get behind its plan to extend the runway. Steve Szalay, Southampton’s Managing Director, said the 164m extension is “essential” to ensuring the airport thrives.

“A highly connected regional airport is vital to the recovery of the regional economy. To achieve its potential, our region needs a successful airport that can provide strong air connectivity.

“The extra length of runway will enable us to bring in the routes and airlines needed to drive the recovery of the economy and support local business and trade,” he added.

It’s still early days and the road to recovery is still filled with twists and turns. Nonetheless, it’s great to hear airports and their partners not just reporting on how they are restarting operations but how they are forging ahead with plans to aid a successful medium and long-term recovery.

Have a great weekend and if you haven’t already registered for next week’s Africa Tomorrow virtual business conference on Tuesday 21 July, you can do so by following this link.

I’ll be moderating the airport session, looking at the “new normal” for African airports. Having attended a rehearsal this week with my fellow panellists – Fundi Sithebe from Airports Company South Africa, Lawal Abdullahi from Federal Airports Authority Nigeria and Nicolas Deviller from Ravinala Airports in Madagascar and ADP International – I’m excited for what is set to be an enlightening discussion and a packed day of conferencing sessions.

Best wishes,

Chloë Greenbank, Regional Gateway Editor.

South Bend Airport sees increase in summer bookings

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Flights at South Bend International Airport (SBN) are on the rise in July and August following four months of decreased flight activity at the Indiana hub.

In July the number of flights coming in and out of the airport are showing an increase of 56.2% over June. In August they are scheduled to increase another 42.1%

“SBN has been impacted by COVID-19 as most every business has been,” said Mike Daigle, SBN’s Executive Director and CEO. “As travel restrictions have been lifted, the airlines are resuming services as demand returns.”

American Airlines resumed a second daily flight to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in July. Alongside the two daily flights to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport brings American’s operations  at the airport back to pre-pandemic levels.

Having previously served SBN nonstop to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Minneapolis-Saint Paul and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport Delta Air Lines has once again increased its service to Dallas to twice daily and resumed its one flight per day to Atlanta. Operations are set to increase again to both airports while Minneapolis-Saint Paul is currently scheduled ot return in September.

United Airlines also increased flights to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport from two to three times daily in July and in August, the airline will increase this route to four times a day.

The low-cost carrier Allegiant continues to serve all five year-round destinations from SBN, while its nonstop service to Sarasota-Brandenton International Airport will resume twice weekly in November.

Daigle added: “The safety of every passenger, employee, and individual that visits SBN has always been, and always will be, our top priority. The airlines and each of our tenant partners are doing everything possible ot ensure a safe travel experience. We are at a time where it is as important as ever for travellers to choose to fly SBN instead of driving to airports in larger cities.”

Southampton and Exeter herald new routes with Blue Islands

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Southampton and Exeter airports in the UK received a welcome boost this week with Channel Islands-based carrier Blue Islands announcing new routes from both hubs.

Blue Islands, which flew an ATR72 in its new corporate colours to Southampton and then on to Exeter on Thursday 9 July, says its goal is to replace capacity that was lost following the collapse of Flybe in March. As of 31 August the airline will offer four routes from Southampton to Jersey, Manchester, Dublin and Guernsey. This is a significant expansion for the 15-year-old regional carrier as it marks the first time it will base an aircraft outside of the Channel Islands. Blue Islands has however been operating between the islands and Southampton since 2007. Since 2016 it operated as a Flybe franchisee.

Initially Blue Islands will base a 70-seater ATR72 aircraft at Southampton creating 20 direct jobs for pilots, cabin crew and maintenance staff. A further 20 more indirect jobs will be generated in ground handling and other associated activities. Paul Simmons, Blue Islands’ Executive Director, explained that when the market improves, the airline “plans to add a second aircraft at Southampton, covering an increased selection of routes and frequencies.”

In addition to the new routes from Southampton, Blue Islands will also start daily flights from Exeter to Manchester from 31 August. And from the 3 September it will fly three times weekly from Exeter to Jersey. The airline will work with partners to offer connections for passengers travelling northbound beyond Manchester.

“Moving into Exeter Airport, where we also hope to set up a base in the next few months and position one of our ATR aircraft, is part of a significant expansion for us,” added Simmons.

Last weekend Exeter saw its first commercial flight depart the airport for the first time since lockdown began. “We’ve undertaken various measures in line with government guidance,” said Matt Roach, Exeter Airport’s Managing Director. “It went really well and it was great to see those flights were in demand and people really want to travel and we hope to continue seeing passenger confidence continue to build in the coming weeks.”

Scottish regional carrier Loganair started flying from Exeter for the first time at the beginning of July. The routes to Newcastle and Edinburgh are being operated on Embraer regional jets. “In the middle of a difficult period for aviation and UK business as a whole, the addition of Blue Islands and Loganair mark the first signs of recovery and give a much-needed boost to regional air connectivity,” continued Roach.

Following the announcement of Blue Islands’ new routes, the Channel-Islands based airline has partnered with Loganair to offer passengers a broad new range of regional air connections across the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

UK airports welcome introduction of ‘safe travel’ list

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With the UK Government set to remove travel restrictions on a list of 60 countries from Friday 10 July for travellers who live in England, airports across the UK have welcomed the Department for Transport’s ‘Safe Travel’ list which has been unveiled in time to kick-start the summer season.

Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s Aviation Development Director, Chris Harcombe, said: “We welcome the news as it is critically important to the start of recovery for the aviation industry.” The airport’s runway has remained operational throughout the coronavirus pandemic for freight operations moving perishable goods and PPE, but Harcombe has welcomed the relaxation of the government’s self-isolation rule for passengers arriving in the UK.

The government’s 14-day quarantine rules on inbound passenger travel will be relaxed from 10 July while non-essential travel restrictions from the Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO) ceased on 4 July. “Our first post-lockdown flight took off on Wednesday and the latest announcement means that more passengers can look forward to getting away for a long-awaited summer break,” Harcombe added.

The government’s safe travel list includes the majority of destinations served by Doncaster Sheffield Airport and its two main operators Wizz Air and TUI. These include popular holiday destinations such as Lanzarote, Tenerife, Palma de Mallorca in Spain, Kos and Rhodes in Greece, Tunisia, Cyprus and Turkey, with TUI flights recommencing from 1 August.

“The safety and well-being of customers and colleagues is the number one priority at Doncaster Sheffield Airport, that continues to strictly follow all guidance from Public Health England and the relevant authorities. Passengers will see our enhanced safety measures within the terminal building include social distancing, the use of safety screens, hand sanitiser stations and an enhanced cleaning programme. Passengers and staff will asked to wear face coverings at the airport and to follow the up to date public information displays,” Harcombe concluded.

Meanwhile Charlie Cornish, Group CEO of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), said: “These travel corridors will open up the chance for people to enjoy a well-earned break abroad and directly benefit the hundreds of thousands of people whose jobs depend on air travel for their livelihoods – whether they work in aviation or for the UK’s tourism and hospitality businesses, which can now welcome the first overseas visitors we will have seen for months.

“The government should continue to take a risk-based approach to quarantine arrangements and, where possible, build more air bridges to key tourism and business destinations with low infection rates. Each one will help protect jobs and preserve billions of pounds worth of economic activity in the UK.”

Regional airports impacted by Air Canada cuts

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As a result of continuing weak demand for both business and leisure travel and government-imposed travel restrictions due to COVID-19 Air Canada is indefinitely suspending services on 30 domestic regional routes and closing eight stations at regional airports across Canada.

Airports that will be affected by the closure of Air Canada’s stations include: Bathurst in New Brunswick, Wabush in Newfoundland and Labrador, Gaspé, Baie Comeau, Mont Joli and Val d’Or (all in Quebec) and Kingston and North Bay in Ontario.

The Canadian carrier reported a net loss of $1.05 billion in the first quarter of 2020, including a net cash-burn in March of $688 million. It has adopted a range of structural changes including significant costs savings and liquidity measures. Other changes to its network and schedule and possible further service suspensions will be considered over the coming weeks.

The eight stations facing closure are managed by Jazz Aviation, which also operates 21 of Air Canada’s discontinued regional routes.

“The COVID-19 crisis and provincial and federal government-imposed travel restrictions and border closures are having a significant negative effect on passenger demand for Canadian air travel,” stated Joe Randell, President and CEO, Chorus Aviation (which owns Jazz Aviation). “I am saddened by the impact today’s announcement will have on our employees, suppliers and the affected communities, but respect and understand the difficult choice our partner, Air Canada, has had to make.”

EasyJet to close three UK bases

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Around 2,000 UK-based easyJet staff are set to be laid off as the low-cost carrier moves to close its bases at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle airports in the UK.

The airline has seven aircraft based at Stansted, with 335 crew. At Southend it has four aircraft and 183 crew and in Newcastle it has three aircraft and 157 crew.

The airline announced in May that it would be cutting 4,500 jobs across Europe, a 30% reduction in its workforce, as a result of travel restrictions and decreased passenger demand due to COVID-19. Around a third of easyJet’s job losses are expected to come at the three UK bases with up to 727 pilot jobs and up to 1,200 cabin crew jobs across the UK at risk.

In a statement Newcastle Airport said it was “saddened to hear of possible job losses and the significant impact this would cause.”

“This is very disappointing for the airport, airline and the North East as a whole and we sympathise with everyone affected by this announcement.”

Commenting on the closure of the bases and the subsequent job cuts, John Lundgren, easyJet’s CEO said, “These are very difficult proposals to put forward in what is an unprecedented and difficult time for the airline and the industry as a whole.” He added, “Unfortunately, the lower-demand environment means we need fewer aircraft and have less opportunity for work for our people.”

Some flights are expected to continue in and out of Newcastle and Stansted, operated by planes and crew based elsewhere, but there is less certainty for Southend, where easyJet is a key airline customer.

Balpa, the pilots’ union described the layoffs as “an overreaction” and that it would be “fighting to save every single job.” Brian Strutton, Balpa’s General Secretary, said the UK’s aviation industry is “caught in a death spiral of despair,” and has called on the UK Government to step in and help.

Meanwhile, Unite, the union representing cabin crew and other aviation workers, said the closure of three easyJet bases and job cuts were another massive blow for the industry and highlighted the urgent need for government support. Oliver Richardson, Unite’s National Officer for Civil Aviation, said the airline had its priorities all wrong. “It has paid a multi-million dividend to its shareholders, borrowed hundreds of millions from the government to buy new aircraft, and has fully utilised the job retention scheme. It absolutely should not be allowed to make huge redundancies a few weeks later.”

Richardson also underlined that the government’s ongoing failure to provide the support promised by the chancellor to support UK aviation is “threatening the viability of airlines and airports alike.”

The news from easyJet comes hot on the heels of aircraft manufactuer Airbus’ announcement on Tuesday that it is to cut 15,000 jobs as a result of a dip in aircraft orders. The job losses at easyJet will is also cause for concern for other regional airports. Birmingham Airport announced on Tuesday that it would be laying off up to 250 people, more than a quarter of directly employed staff, due to the coronavirus downturn. Last week Swissport announced that it was halving its UK workforce and it had already begun the process of making 500 staff redundant at its Midlands hub.


Australia’s regional airports share $41.2m for upgrades

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Bendigo Airport (pictured) is among some 60 regional airports in Australia to benefit from £41.2 million in funding for upgrades under a new federal government initiative.

Upgrades range from taxiway and runway resurfacing projects to fencing upgrades, lighting works and drainage solutions. The grants are part of a larger $100 million package announced during last year’s budget, but which now take on increased importance as the global aviation industry recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. This funding is also in addition to the federal government’s more than $1.2 billion support package for Australia’s aviation industry during the current crisis.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is also the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, said the funding would assist regional airport owners to undertake essential works, promoting aviation safety and access for regional Australians.

“For our regional communities, the local airport is an essential link to the rest of Australia,” McCormack said in a statement.

“The government is investing in regional airports because we know this infrastructure is key to securing our regional aviation network now and into the post-COVID future.”

Bendigo Airport is tor receive $465,000 for RPT apron expansion and strengthening and run-up area development. Other airports to benefit include Ballarat, which is receiving a $5 million runway upgrade and Merimbula, which will see a $4.5 million runway upgrade.

Labor’s transport spokewoman Catherine King warned that while all funding is welcome regional airports in Australia have been hit hard by coronavirus and more funding will be required for the industry to recover from the COVID crisis. She pointed out that, “With many regional airports being council-owned, they have been ineligible fro JobKeeper support and have been forced to lay off highly skilled staff.”

Wizz Air extends services with two new bases in Larnaca and Milan

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Wizz Air is expanding its operations opening two new bases at Larnaca in Cyprus and Milan Malpensa in Italy from July. The Hungarian low-cost carrier has also announced additional routes from London Luton Airport.

The airline plans to base five Airbus A320 aircraft at Milan Malpensa which will serve 20 new routes includeing Athens, Corfu, Eindhoven, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lisbon, London Luton, Menorca, Marrakesh, Porto, Pristina, Reykjavik – Keflavik, Rhodes, Santorini, Tallinn, Tel Aviv, Tenerife, Thessaloniki, Valencia, Zakynthos.

The carrier has also announced 10 new routes from its new base at Larnaca where it will base two Airbus A32- aircraft. These include: Athens, Billund, Copenhagen, Dortmund, Karlsuhe/ Baden-Baden, Memmingen, Suceava, Thessaloniki, Turku and Wroclaw.

Commenting on the new services from the Cypriot hub  in a statement on Linked in, Andys Frangos, Senior Manager Operations at Larnaca, said: “Great news, coming exactly at the time when the focus is on the post Covid-19 reactivation plan for the airport… Looking forward to welcoming more passengers to our beautiful island.”

Meanwhile a statement from Wizz Air read: “Once a game changer, always a game changer. While legacy airlines are being bailed out by governments all over Europe, we are happy to announced our new bases in Milan Malpensa and Larnaca.”