COVID-19: AAPA joins calls for coordinated response to pandemic to restart industry

Restoring passenger trust may prove to be a problem, CAPA study finds

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Airlines in Asia and around the world have shut down operations and grounded thousands of planes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The main trade group representing some of Asia’s biggest carriers said an early restart to the aviation industry “will spur global recovery from the current (COVID-19 coronavirus) crisis. The Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA), headed by newly installed Director General Subhas Menon, said in a statement that while the COVID-19 pandemic will take time to abate, “governments will need airlines to underpin a wider economic recovery, connect manufacturing hubs and support tourism”

A screenshot of the virus tracking site produced by Johns Hopkins University. Click on the image to access the live site. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Like its counterpart trade group IATA (International Air Transport Association), the AAPA says any relaxation of border controls needs “careful consideration, and in the case of international flights will necessarily involve governments working together to develop common standards and re-establish mutual trust”.

AAPA Director General Subhas Menon. (PHOTO: AAPA)

“Work must begin on a multilateral basis to develop the necessary protocols to safeguard public health while restoring international connectivity including air services,” Menon said. “The key to success is close collaboration with the many stakeholders which make up the global air transportation system, including aeronautical authorities, airlines, airports, and other service providers as in-depth knowledge and close integration with established business systems are essential.”

The AAPA said the aviation industry “is actively engaging with governments and international regulatory authorities, including public health and medical experts, to discuss the measures needed to restore public confidence in the safety of air travel, and develop comprehensive plans for safe and orderly resumption of air services”. An example is a series of “virtual summits” being held by IATA.

As dozens of analysts have said in various webinars that have sprung up since the pandemic started, countries with large domestic air networks will see their aviation industries restart the fastest with regional and international lagging as diverse governments lift the border controls on their own timetables. The AAPA said “new national health security protocols may be sufficient to restart domestic travel (but) a separate framework will be needed for international air travel. Cross-border flights can only resume in earnest when governments are ready to lift blanket travel bans and relax other restrictions on international travel”.

Reassuring the public that it is safe to fly will require “consensus on the need to develop a set of measures that are internationally coordinated, coherent and consistently applied across the world”, the AAPA said in its statement.

An empty departure hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand due to COVID-19. The aviation world will be changed by the pandemic and plane makers face a starly different market ahead. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Restoring passenger trust may be harder than the industry thinks, according to the aviation consultancy CAPA, which said a recent survey of social media showing 8.5 million social conversations conveyed a negative outlook, up 43 percent in past two months. In social listening research for members of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and the International Flight Services Association (IFSA), a CAPA research unit said passengers are “very frustrated” and responding to airline surveys “very negatively”. The conversation themes eliciting the most negative passenger sentiment in order are difficulty finding COVID-19 information, food inspection and sanitary efforts.

The study also compared the performance of 100 airlines in their response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a top 10 list that is led by Singapore Airlines. The Asian flag carrier holds a performance score of 30 – almost double the 18 points average. It strong performance was bettered in certain categories though, such as proactive measure and community spirit, where it was surpassed by both Qatar Airways and KLM, the CAPA report said.

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