API magazine
October 1, 2020

Asia-PacificAirports Face a New Normal

ByStefano Baronci, Director General, ACI Asia-Pacific

Stefano Baronci

Airport tarmacs across the world have become parking lots and terminals are eerily deserted. The new decade has thrown the industry a curve ball leading many to ask what the “new normal” will look like. In the same way the impact of COVID-19 took time to spread to all corners of the world, the recovery process will be on different time tables too. Airports in Asia-Pacific were the first and hardest-hit region and will likely lead the recovery.

Devastating impact
An analysis of preliminary weekly passenger data from January to the middle of March at 18 major hubs in Asia-Pacific handling around 24% of traffic in the region, clearly shows the increasing traffic deterioration, culminating in an average decrease around -80% by the second week of March compared to the same period in 2019.  By the first week April, traffic dropped to a shocking -95%.
ACI Asia-Pacific estimates the first quarter loss in the region to be in the range of US$5.6 billion, coming from the contraction in traffic as well as loss of non-aeronautical revenue. The revenue loss estimates for the full year 2020 now stands at US$23.9B, impacting airports of all sizes. To place these numbers in context, airports have burnt through about 10% of total yearly revenues in just three months.
From a passenger point of view, a prolonged outbreak may result in a traffic volume loss in the range of 1.5 billion passengers.

Measures taken
The Asia-Pacific region is unfortunately no stranger to outbreaks of communicable diseases. The onset of COVID-19 immediately brought back memories of the 2003 SARS outbreak. Fortunately, many lessons were learned from that and other outbreaks and airports were prepared through handbooks such as the ACI Handbook for Emergency Preparedness and Contingency Planning. Across the region, airports were quick to implement measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Here is a small sample of implemented measures:

At Sydney Airport, health reminders and signs are placed in the terminal sharing health tips, such as reminding passengers to keep 1.5 meters safe distance from each other.
In an industry-first, an Intelligent Sterilisation Robot (ISR) joined the airport team at Hong Kong International Airport to combat the coronavirus. The robot moves autonomously and sterilises up to 99.99% of bacteria and virus in the air and on object surfaces.

Employees at Taoyuan International Airport are sanitizing arrival pathways from the air bridge, terminal aisles to the arrival hall after each flight’s arrival and departure. The airport is enforcing temperature check at the terminal entrance.  
Airports have embraced their role to support relief flights to transport stranded passengers back to their home country and deliver medical and other emergency and essential supplies.

The philanthropic arm of Changi Airport Group, Changi Foundation, donated 650 litres of a self-disinfecting coating to all 16 town councils in Singapore. This coating, named “sdst”, has been applied on frequently-touched surfaces in the airport. Eco-friendly and safe, the coating safeguards against viruses, bacteria and fungi. It is effective for three months without the need for reapplication.
Shanghai Airport Authority donated epidemic prevention materials including masks, goggles, PPEs and gloves to Macau, Milan Malpensa, and Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport.
GMR led Hyderabad Air Cargo, with the permission of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, used existing passenger category aircraft to ship shipment of essential supplies internationally.

Relief measures
In the face of this unprecedented situation, ACI Asia-Pacific repeatedly called on governments and regulators to implement measures to safeguard airport jobs and connectivity. In doing so, the association requested to engage all aviation stakeholders in an equal and a non-discriminatory manner:

1. Alleviation of airport slots usage requirements until the end of June 2020
2. Tax relief for the aviation sector
3. Suspension or deferment of airport operators’ concession fees to governments
4. Protection of airport revenues to finance operations, and bear high fixed cost
5. Government financial assistance

The new normal
The recovery time line will look different per region and even within regions. As China cautiously reopens travel connectivity, lockdowns remain in place in India until early May. Many international travel bans and restrictions are still in effect.
In the coming months, it will be crucial for airports to regain the trust of the travelling public. Just as the security measures implemented after September 11 attacks in 2001 never went away, we should anticipate continued health screenings. Airports will need to address the impact of these new measures including:

• Impact of social distancing requirements on lower load factors/airport throughput
• Impact of health monitoring, disinfecting aircraft/airports on turnaround times
• Added complexity of transferring trough airport hubs

To help minimize the impact on operations when traffic bans are removed, airports should anticipate fast tracking procedures such as security clearance with regard to the re-appointment of personnel temporarily laid off during the duration of the crisis.
As the association that represents the region’s airports, ACI Asia-Pacific has started the process of mapping the breadth of issues airports and their business partners face in the recovery phase, needing to identify best practices, and provide operators with a common set of guidelines and governments and policy makers with advice and essential requirements.