I’m usually a very positive person, always at least half a glass full and plenty of bottles to replenish when empty but today I’m broken. Today it’s very hard to believe that the glass can continue to be refilled when there is increasingly very little to top it up with. The fallout from September 11th changed the world of aviation in a way that we could never have imagined and when I left the airline shortly after I never thought I would see heartbreak and disruption on that scale again. But I was wrong. What we face now is the nightmare of nightmares for many industries and one, which is threatening to wipe out air travel forever.
Is anyone currently still flying?
Yes London Heathrow, Frankfurt and Dublin are still key hubs for regular flights if travel is essential for whatever reason. There is basic catering on board and in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, some middle seats are being left free and/or space between each row. This is not difficult to achieve for the majority of flights due to low passenger numbers.
Although increasingly resembling ghost towns, signage with regard to hygiene and social distancing has been implemented at airports and passengers are given advice as to how to protect themselves, others and the NHS. To date, passengers are not required to wear a mask and no monitoring procedures are in place when landing at London Heathrow. However a two-week quarantine process is set to be introduced in the second phase of the Government’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak. This will no doubt significantly influence future air travel decisions and quite possibly seal the fate of the industry.
What are the short, medium and long-term implications of the current situation for air travel?
The immediate danger facing the airlines is survival. Many employees have been furloughed and there have been a wave of announcements with regards to applications for government bailouts and job cuts. The most recent being the shocking proposals by British Airways to cut nigh on 12,000 jobs which amounts to around a quarter of its workforce. From a company that said it expected to see an 80% upturn by the end of the year and has a significant IAG pot to fall back on, this is at the very least very concerning and at the most, very hard to stomach.
Reduction of routes and increased travel restrictions has and will continue to impact on bookings and associated revenue. In the interim, closing down of airlines does not mean zero outlay. There are daily costs involved in parking up aircraft. Once parked up for a certain set period then they require extensive testing and checking hence why Ryanair are continuing to fly aircraft once a week for maintenance purposes.
Staff retention costs are ongoing as when industry restarts then there needs to be a workforce ready to go. These costs are amplified by the requirements of flight and cabin crew to have recency training before returning to duties. This has both logistical as well as financial implications. As we move forward, there there will undoubtedly be less competition with some airlines not surviving even with government intervention. We may see amalgamations of airlines as they seek to solve cash flow issues.
In the medium term even when restrictions are relaxed, there will be much less leisure travel due to households cutting back on finances and prioritising their expenses accordingly. This will come back but it will take a great deal of time as personal finances recover.
And in the long term the effect on airlines is incalculable. People’s behaviours will have been changed permanently and companies will have found alternate ways of conducting business through technology and video conferencing. The demand for flights will therefore be much reduced for the foreseeable future if not permanently as companies reap the financial benefits of reduced travel and seek to reduce costs to make back losses incurred during this period.
Orders of new aircraft will not be required which has a significant knock on impact on manufacturers most notably Boeing and Airbus through either cancellations and lack of new orders. There will be a surplus number of aircraft, which cannot be sold on as no means of selling them and nowhere to sell to.
So is there a future for air travel?
The short and simple answer is who knows. There are still so many ifs and buts and maybes and only time will tell as to the true extent of the impact. According to Aviation Analyst Alex Macheras this is ‘The largest crisis in the history of flight itself not just the airlines.’ It will be a miracle if there is any kind of positive comeback post lockdown and if there really is a future for air travel. Sadly the only certainty that we have at this point in time is that life in the skies will never be the same again.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. My heart goes out to all those affected by the Coronavirus outbreak and my fingers remain crossed that better days will eventually come.
Take care, stay home and stay safe x