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Key elements to restoring passenger trust in air travel

Key elements to restoring passenger trust in air travel

The upturn in activity and the return to economic growth will only be possible if airports find the perfect balance

The Covid-19 health crisis is the biggest disruption in the history of aviation.

The virus has infected more than thirty five million people worldwide, causing over one million deaths, and brought air travel to a standstill as governments ordered lockdowns impacting billions of people.

The impact on the industry has been tremendous. According to the global forecast by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global air traffic fell by 96.8 per cent in June 2020 compared to June of last year.

In the Middle East specifically, passenger traffic reduced by 96 per cent in June compared with almost a 98 per cent demand drop in May. When countries ease their lockdowns and reopen borders, the main challenge for the air industry will be persuading people to trust that it is safe to fly.

In an April survey by IATA, 40 per cent of would-be travellers from the UK, US, Australia, Germany and India said they would wait six months after the virus was under control before flying again.

IATA forecasts global passenger numbers are expected to decline by 55 per cent for the remainder of 2020 compared to 2019. In a survey conducted by the association in June, 58 per cent of travelers across 11 countries indicated they have been avoiding air travel out of which 33 per cent suggested they will avoid air travel in the near future as a continued measure to reduce the risk of catching Covid-19.

One thing is certain: flying is going to be different.

The new normal in air travel
Just as airport security changed after 9/11, air passengers will face a similar wave of new procedures to help them stay healthy and safe during their journey.

Aviation marketing consultancy Simpliflying says flying will become a highly sanitised experience and many of the changes being rolled out will become the norm. A number of new technologies are already on trial around the world to offer a touchless experience, provide health screening and monitor flows to ensure social distancing in crowded airports.

Abu Dhabi is testing contactless check-in kiosks that can scan travellers for basic health and select them for further screening should they appear to show symptoms of the virus. Passengers may have to go through thermal scanners and even disinfection tunnels, like the ones on trial at Hong Kong airport.

Social distancing at check-in and boarding areas will become essential, along with checks to ensure passengers are wearing masks, which will be compulsory on board the aircraft. Thermal scanners will be deployed throughout the airport, while counters will be screened off to protect staff.

Simpliflying estimates that over 70 different areas in the passenger journey will either change or will be introduced from scratch to restore confidence in flying after Covid-19. All these measures will require a significant overhaul of current airport procedures, creating daunting planning challenges for airport operators.

The upturn in activity and the return to economic growth will only be possible if airports find the perfect balance, whilst implementing the new health and social distancing rules, which will inevitably cut airport capacity.

To overcome this current crisis and reinstate passenger trust, airport stakeholders must adopt automation, biometric and contactless solutions and create a multi-layered approach to enhance and streamline airport safety. This will reassure passengers by providing the highest level of protection, safety and security, and in turn, enable a quicker recovery for the air transport industry.

Bernard Roux is the CEO at Thales in the UAE

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