Joining forces to save civil aviation
Desolate airports around the world bear testimony to the cruel impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on civil aviation – both passenger and cargo services.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced global passenger traffic data for February 2020 showing that demand (measured in total revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) fell 14.1% compared to February 2019.
This was the steepest decline in traffic since 9.11 and reflected collapsing domestic travel in China and sharply falling international demand to/from and within the Asia-Pacific region, owing to the spreading COVID-19 virus and government-imposed travel restrictions.
The aviation industry is the thread that stitches the globe together. Without the global connectivity provided by aviation, sustaining global supply chains, as well as developing country industries such as perishable horticulture and tourism would be impossible.
It is therefore imperative that governments start examining action plans to create rescue packages for their national carriers in particular and for the aviation industry in general. Otherwise, we risk causing irrecoverable damage to international connectivity.
By value, 35 % of international trade flown by air, 57 % of international tourists travel by air and each airline job contributes to 24 more in the wider economy. Around the world, the busiest airports are seeing hundreds of aircraft parked idly in hangers and runways with nowhere to go.
Even as passengers protest that issuing travel vouchers in lieu of refunds for unused tickets is unfair, an IATA analysis shows that airlines may burn through $61 billion of their cash reserves during the second quarter ending 30 June 2020.
In Bahrain, the COVID-19 crisis is sure to impact the timeline and progress of our local aviation industry, whether in the form of delay in opening the new airport or in the bottom line of our national carrier, Gulf Air.
As passengers, we are, of course, very patriotic and I am sure many of us will try to fly Gulf Air for our travels, once the pandemic ebbs.
But I appeal to the other stakeholders, be it Bahrain International Airport or Gulf Air to also make an immense effort to woo passengers with the four things that travellers value the most: punctuality, a widespread network, a welcoming service on ground and in the air as well as good fares that make economic sense. All of these will help us join hands and overcome aviation’s darkest hour when the sun shines again.