August 18, 2022

Sing out

Experts across the inflight, airport and hospitality sector are calling on the aviation industry to take control of the COVID-19 impact and start calling the tune. There is no longer time to wait for guidance, says Lance Hayward

Left to run its course, with only piecemeal responses to the challenges, the current pandemic will mean it is many years before recovery. While individual associations and industry leaders have made isolated statements and pleas to their various governments and in the press, this has had little or no effect – why? 

Because quite frankly there are a lot of industries clamouring for attention out there and solo voices simply do not get any attention. To continue the musical analogy, only the loud, harmonious, fully practiced choirs will be heard.

Gather the choir

To be heard we need to ‘sing’ together. Airport groups and associations, airline, rail and cruise associations, travel catering and retail associations; hotel, travel and tourism associations; business travel and hospitality associations, unions and medical associations – I believe we need to come together. 

In the UK press many notable figures have pledged support for such campaigns, namely, Paul Everitt, chief executive of aerospace and defence industry body ADS; Tim Alderslade, chief executive Airlines UK; Warren East, chief executive Rolls Royce; Karen Dee, chief executive Airport Operators Association; John Holland-Kaye chief executive Heathrow Airport; Professor Sir John Bell Regius chair of medicine Oxford University and MPs including Sir Graham Brady, Henry Smith, former Prime Minister Tony Blair. There are clearly some strong voices ready to join.

Agree the verses

To my mind the first ‘verse’ needs to gain passenger confidence through risk-managed, affordable, bio-security measures which do not involve social distancing and self-isolation for two weeks. 

International air, cruise and rail transportation is not operationally or commercially designed for social distancing so we must adequately test to ensure the vast proportion of passengers are safe before and after their journey. No test can yet guarantee a 100% effectiveness but the security of PPE protocols will cover for those that slip through the net. 

Test results need to have a maximum 48 hour turnaround. 48 hours before travel; 48 hours after travel. That way, individuals can plan their journeys without significant disruption and cost. The tests need to be affordable too. Research by the UK national paper The Telegraph concluded 52% of passengers are prepared to pay a minimum of £50 for a test, if it meant they could avoid a quarantine, 10% would pay up to £100, and 4% would pay up to £150. To my mind, the figure probably needs to be £15-20 to achieve real traction. 

The flip side of that coin is the staggering cost of doing nothing. Organisations such as the World Travel and Tourism Council have calculated the cost of not introducing testing — £22bn, or £63m per day, to the UK economy alone in 2020, for example, due to the deterrent of 14 day quarantines.

Facing eco facts

For ‘verse’ two we need clear and achievable commitment to the environmental and well-being impact of travel. The present situation is a wake-up call for the industry. We should heed it. It’s not enough for the prime objective to be to return to pre-COVID-19 volumes and growth projections without addressing the harm the industry is doing to the planet and its role in facilitating the spread of harmful virus.

To put it in perspective – aviation contributed about 2% of the world’s global carbon emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) pre-COVID. It predicted passenger numbers would double to 8.2 billion by 2037. And as other sectors of the economy become greener — with more wind turbines, for example — aviation’s proportion of total emissions is set to rise.

We have been swept along by the commercial prospect of 8bn+ travellers by 2037 and in the pursuit of profit and maintaining a competitive landscape, we have inadvertently built an industry infrastructure notable for its depletion of natural resources, duplication and waste, while paying lip- service to the well-being of its passengers.

With major players in the industry facing a liquidity abyss, it’s time to radically re-engineer the business model around how we move people around in comfort and safety, efficiently and with a lighter environmental touch. 

Provide answers

In ‘verse’ three we need, as an industry, to present a detailed road map to government on how this can all be achieved, and the positive impact of its implementation and the government role in it.

Time is of the essence. The plan has to be agreed and implemented in time for summer 2021. For some businesses, that will be too late, but the bulk of the industry can be saved if we act now. 

The thing that will make governments sit up and take notice is the positive impact of the plan — the forecasted jobs that will be saved, the mental and social well-being that it will generate, the positive impact on national GDPs.

The good news is that we don’t have to start from scratch. There are already a number of private sector companies who are well advanced in developing realistic solutions that can be brought together in collaboration to create a cohesive and detailed road map for the way ahead.

Leadership

With the song composed, next we need to appoint the conductor, a credible spokesman who arranges and presents a harmonious and engaging message to the media and the target audience. A leader who can build passenger confidence and engage with the politicians, health authorities and the media on a global scale. For this I would go back to the list of notables mentioned earlier who if they are willing to pick up the baton could build on the impressive legacies they have already established. 

Prepare to campaign

The audience is beginning to assemble, governments are starting to take their seats, ready to listen. The UK, for example, now has ‘The Global Travel Taskforce’ tasked to see how a testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented; identifying steps to facilitate business and tourist travel on a bilateral and global basis, through innovative testing models and other means; and more broadly, finding ways to increase consumer confidence and reduce the barriers to a safe, sustainable recovery.

Act fast

I believe it is already five minutes to midnight in this crisis. We don’t have the time to allow others to consider how to compose the tune.They’ve got to report back to the Prime Minister, so we need to give them a draft score which they can instantly relate to and get them eager to hear the final performance. 

Once we’ve whetted their appetite, we’ll need to present a carefully designed campaign, based on credible and mass data, that gets to the root of passenger confidence and guides us in the development of solutions to preserve our industry not only to survive this pandemic, but to re-position it for a sustainable future.

The Hayward Partnership, of 22 industry experts, is committed to supporting those shaping the new normal. Learn more: lance@thehaywardpartnership.com

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