ACI EUROPE reported today that Europe’s airports continued to be at an almost complete stand-still during the month of May, with passenger traffic down by -98% compared to the same period last year. As a result, only 4.3 million passengers travelled through the European network of 500+ airports in May, compared to 216.8 million last year.
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE said: “With well over half a billion passengers1 lost so far this year and still no revenues coming in, Europe’s airports are anxiously waiting for travel restrictions to be lifted and airlines to resume operations. With the epidemic now de-escalating in many countries and a plan to allow for intra-European travel – at least within the Schengen area – by the end of the month, we are finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.”
“But there is no escape that the recovery will be slow and gradual – and that the post-COVID-19 aviation market will be fundamentally disrupted and structurally very different. For now, we do not see a return to last year’s traffic volumes before 2023.”
“Most national authorities are quite rightly taking a phased approach, but it’s vitally important that devices such as quarantine are risk-based and proportionate. If quarantine is used as a blunt instrument as it is in the UK, it is one which will deliver an economic and social blow from which we will all struggle to recover.”
All this shows that Europe’s airports, along with airlines, are amongst the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19, and that Government support is needed for them to recover. Such support is essential not just to restore the air connectivity that is underpinning the livelihood of communities, businesses and citizens – but also to safeguard the ability of both airports and airlines to invest and decarbonise.
SUPPORT NOT JUST FOR AIRLINES – BUT FOR THE ECOSYSTEM
However, Governments in Europe have almost exclusively helped airlines, with more than €24 billion of financial support already approved – and yet more to come. Meanwhile and apart from a few exceptions, airports have been excluded from national aid programmes for aviation. Airports have generally benefitted only from temporary unemployment schemes, leaving them in an extremely difficult financial situation.
France, Germany and Italy are particular cases in point, with those 3 countries extending a whopping€19.3 billion2 in financial support to their former flag carriers, without providing specific support to their airports.
Jankovec commented: “Keeping airlines afloat – or rather flying, is obviously in the interest of airports. But this does not per se secure their financial viability. With selective governmental support not benefitting all airlines, and with no condition attached for recipient airlines to support their suppliers – including airports, the current situation creates huge imbalances in the air transport eco-system. This essentially brings us back to the era when the interest of airlines used to command aviation policy, with no consideration for other industry stakeholders – let alone consumers.”
CURRENT IMBALANCES MUST BE CORRECTED
ACI EUROPE, together with the national airport associations of Germany (ADV), France (UAF&FA) and Italy (Assaeroporti), called on governments and the EU to address these imbalances and safeguard the proper functioning of the Single Aviation Market by using all other instruments available for that purpose. This should include:
Allowing airports to benefit from temporary unemployment schemes under the most favourable conditions and beyond the Summer months. This is crucial to contain permanent layoffs and retain skilled staff.
Granting financial compensation to airports for the costs involved in remaining open when travel restrictions eliminated demand for air transport as well as for the costs involved in implementing sanitary measures.
Ensuring the timely return of slots not used by airlines, so as to allow airports to limit costs by effectively adjusting resources and staffing to the actual level of airline operations. This would also allow the timely reallocation of unused slots to other airlines – thus benefitting air connectivity.
Ensuring that charges paid by airlines for the use of airport facilities better reflect underlying costs as per the “user pays” principle advocated by the European Commission for transport infrastructure. In particular, under-recovered costs must be carried forward into future regulatory periods.
Airline dominance is set to become the norm in the post COVID-19 aviation market, as already evidenced by the way prominent airlines are conditioning the restart of their operations to either free use or massive discounts on airport charges. The revision of the EU Airport Charges Directive does not take this new reality into consideration and needs to be reconsidered to avoid further imbalances in the air transport ecosystem.
Ensuring further liberalisation of air traffic rights (in particular at niche, secondary hubs and regional airports) and relaxation of airlines’ ownership and control rules to facilitate the restoration and development of air connectivity.
As part of its OFF THE GROUND initiative, ACI EUROPE is releasing a number of papers detailing some of the above mentioned proposals (see below).
Economic analysis by Airports Council International (ACI) World has found that, at a global level, the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to wipe out two-fifths of passenger traffic and almost half of revenues for airports in 2020.
In an economic bulletin published, ACI World predicts that global passenger traffic close to two-fifths (38.1%) will be lost as compared to the forecasted pre-COVID-19 figure. This is equivalent to 3.6 billion passengers in absolute terms.
This shortfall in the number of passengers and the cancellation of flights will continue to result in reduced revenues. While the industry was expected to generate about $172 billion (figures in US Dollars), it is now predicted it could lose about 45% or more than $76 billion by the end of this year.
“A drastic decline of such magnitude for the global airport industry represents an existential threat,” ACI World Director General Angela Gittens said.
“A swift, effective and equitable economic policy response from governments is needed to protect millions of jobs, protect essential operations, and give the industry the greatest chance to weather the storm and recover quickly.
“The global airport industry has faced multi-billion-dollar losses already in the first quarter of 2020, but it is now predicted that the impact of COVID-19 will extend not only to the second quarter of 2020 but also the second half of the year.
“Most experts in the air transport industry agree that recovery may take a year to 18 months to reach pre-crisis traffic levels and the industry may not record pre-COVID-19 traffic volumes again before the end of 2021
“A fair and equitable global economic policy response is required to safeguard essential airport operations, to protect millions of jobs worldwide, and to ensure the survival of the industry and lay the foundation for a fair recovery.”
As revenues continue to contract rapidly, airports are taking all possible measures to preserve financial stability. While airports have high fixed and unavoidable costs, they are reducing, to a minimum, variable costs by closing portions of infrastructure, postponing capital expenditure, and addressing staffing costs. These difficult decisions are not taken lightly but are necessary in response to the crisis facing the industry.
As regards prospects for recovery, ACI believes it is reasonable to foresee faster recovery in domestic passenger traffic. In the case of international passenger traffic, however, the recovery will take longer, as any international flight implies reciprocal permissions, while various States will emerge from the current crisis at different times with varying pace of relaxation of the recently imposed restrictions.
Airports Council International (ACI) World has published an Advisory Bulletin on the predicted global economic impact on the airports sector of the unfolding COVID-19 public health emergency.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have published a joint statement providing updated advice on COVID-19 and civil aviation, ACI World has predicted the economic impact of the outbreak on the global airport industry will be pronounced.
At the global level, ACI estimates that airport passenger traffic volume for the first quarter of 2020 will be down at least 12 percentage points compared to what ACI previously projected for the same quarter.
Asia-Pacific is the most impacted region with passenger traffic volumes down 24 percentage points as compared to previous business as usual forecasts for the first quarter of 2020. Europe and the Middle East are also expected to be significantly impacted by reductions in traffic. North America is expected to see similar declines in the second quarter of 2020 with recent service reductions just announced last week in North America and with more expected in the coming weeks.
This effect on passenger numbers and flight cancellations will result in reduced revenues from airport charges – while aeronautical revenues are being challenged in this way, the cost base for airport charges remains unchanged as airports have many fixed costs.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, global airport revenues for the first quarter of 2020 were forecast to reach close to $39.5 billion USD. ACI now estimates a loss of revenues of at least $4.3 billion for a total revenue. Most of the loss in revenues is expected to occur in the Asia-Pacific region with a difference of $3 billion in projected revenue. This is approximately equal to the total annual revenues of two major European or Asian hubs combined.
At this time, Europe is the second most-impacted region, while all other regions will see the impact of the loss of passengers as more data becomes available.
ACI World is also urging a proportionate slot allocation response to COVID-19 that will preserve global airport connectivity. A global suspension of slot rules would jeopardize the ability for countries to stay connected with the world which will in turn have knock on effects to economies. ACI World favours an evidence-based market-by-market review.
Depending on local circumstances, a relaxation to a lower threshold as a first step may be considered in the case of markets where airlines are trimming capacity to reflect the lower demand impact experienced on routes not as directly impacted. In markets that are severely impacted, a suspension of the 80/20 rule may be considered for a limited period, in consultation with airport operators, airlines and slot coordinators.
“The airport industry recognizes that all stakeholders of the aviation ecosystem are heavily impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, and as such favours a strengthened cooperation between airports, airlines, and regulatory authorities as the industry responds to the outbreak,” ACI World Director General Angela Gittens said.
“The sudden shock represented by the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting passenger and cargo traffic worldwide, markedly in Asia-Pacific and significantly reducing airport revenues.
“Airports rely heavily on airport charges to fund their operating and capital costs and operators find themselves under intense pressure during periods of traffic decline. Airport revenues must be sufficiently protected to ensure safe and sustainable operations. Measures to limit the collection of airport charges would be ill-advised.
“ACI World and all ACI Regions are also urging a proportionate slot allocation response to COVID-19 that will preserve global airport connectivity and favours a market-by-market review which is evidence based when it comes to assessing slot usage requirements. An evidence-based review would examine infection rates, load factors, forward booking forecasts, and the impact on the environment of continuing certain services.”
As the situation continues to unfold quickly, and cognizant that the above analyses are based on data from ACI databases and on scheduled capacity extracted in early March 2020, ACI World will continue to closely monitor the situation and adjust its advisory accordingly.
ICAO-WHO joint statement on COVID-19:
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) published a joint statement providing updated advice regarding COVID-19 and civil aviation.
Signed by the Director General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and by ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu, the statement also reaffirms their commitment as UN specialized agencies to foster greater international cooperation to contain the virus and to protect the health of travellers.
The statement noted the importance of States adhering to ICAO and WHO standards relating to the prevention of the spread of communicable diseases, and to follow the International Health Regulations (2005).
ICAO itself has been working closely with governments and industry partners such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International (ACI), to provide guidance to aviation authorities, airlines and airports, and advice to individuals, on appropriate measures that will protect the health of travellers and reduce the risk of transmission.
ICAO issued two electronic bulletins and a State letter to urge Member States to adhere to the recommendations and guidance provided by the WHO, and to highlight ICAO’s role in providing aviation-related information on COVID-19, and in serving as the key facilitator for States and organizations that are members of the ICAO Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation CAPSCA) programme to implement effective collaboration and coordination with all stakeholders.
The ICAO State letter directly urged national governments to implement the relevant provisions of Annex 9 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention), to formalize their membership in CAPSCA and augment its funding for communicable disease response preparedness, and to establish a National Air Transport Facilitation Committee.
Given the importance of considering detailed health and disease information alongside civil aviation policies and procedures surrounding COVID-19, both ICAO and the WHO have been working closely together in recent weeks in order to develop expert advice and ensure coordinated global action.
Their statement today stressed the importance of greater public-private cooperation and inter-agency dialogue, and accordingly has urged States and relevant organizations to join ICAO’s Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA).
Government aviation and health officials were also reminded to enhance cross-sector collaboration at the national level and establish National Facilitation Committees as required by ICAO Standards.
The new joint statement comes amidst increased international cooperation in order to coordinate a more effective response to COVID-19, and was welcomed by aviation industry groups.
“Stopping the spread of the virus is the top priority,” underscored Mr. Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Officer.
“IATA and the airlines are working closely with WHO, ICAO, and ACI to ensure that harmonized and updated procedures are made available in order to keep passengers safe, the world connected, and the virus contained. Travellers should be reassured that the industry is prepared to deal with communicable diseases as a result of experiences with previous outbreaks. The International Health Regulations of WHO are the established foundation for the coordinated global effort that will be required by all involved”
Ms. Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI similarly expressed appreciation towards the multi-sector and multi-agency communication reflected in the statement.
“The COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on aviation has highlighted the need for effective coordination and a proportionate response from States,” she highlighted. “ACI welcomes the leadership shown by ICAO and WHO in this regard and would urge States to follow WHO advice. The health and welfare of travellers, staff and the public, and limiting the spread of communicable diseases, are the priorities for the aviation industry, so it is in all of our interests to have a common, easily understood, approach to help to prevent the spread of illness. We also welcome the practical steps suggested by WHO that can assist travellers to protect themselves.”
The joint statement complements the ongoing efforts of ICAO and WHO in response to COVID-19.
ICAO has also published a new web area to serve as a single source for civil aviation-related information on COVID-19. Daily statistics on the evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak and its impacts on aviation are also made available through the site.