One year ago, this month, the commercial aviation industry was hit hard by the global pandemic. Over the last twelve months, leaders from around the globe, from airports, airlines, government agencies, and industry, have come together to understand the devastating impact of COVID and to put in place a plan for recovery. While there is still much progress to be made, there have been some important lessons learned from the past year that will help the industry build back and grow stronger in the future.

The Connected Aviation Today editorial team pulled together input from some of the leaders in the industry to get a better understanding of where we are today and what needs to happen in the near future.

Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of IATA, which now represents nearly 300 airlines in 120 countries, held a press briefing one year after IATA’s first COVID-19 briefing. “I certainly did not expect that we would still be doing them in March 2021. COVID-19 continues to be a global tragedy. And, what has happened in aviation over the past 12 months has been nothing less than catastrophic,” Juniac remarked.

He noted in a recent blog post, that as we look forward to a recovery in 2021, “aviation must play a key role in helping people to reconnect and the world to reconnect. Many governments have recognized this unique role and stepped up to the tune of more than $173 billion. But unless and until governments also adopt a more flexible—and frankly better—policy response to the pandemic that does not ground the industry at every turn, these investments will not assure that a viable air transport network remains in place.”

Juniac called for governments to take action and “set out a clear long-term strategy, not just for handling COVID-19, but for future pandemic outbreaks.” He noted that COVID-19 will stay with us in some form or another for a long time, so we need to prepare and set a better precedent for any future outbreaks. 

IATA currently has put in place a pilot program for the IATA Travel Pass, which will securely verify and transmit test data to the appropriate authorities. Future iterations can be adapted to manage vaccine credentials. “The building blocks are in place to safely re-open borders for people to re-connect, and for economies to re-build. Now we need policy decisions that enable implementation,” Juniac concluded.

Read more of Juniac’s remarks here and here.

Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO, ACI-NA, which is the voice of more than 300 North American airports, highlighted a few of the silver linings that came out of the pandemic. In a recent post, he noted that the pandemic spurred rapid innovation to create a contactless passenger experience. While many of the technologies may have been in pilot phases or seemed years away, Burke said “the pandemic accelerated these efforts and turned our industry’s aspirations into reality.”

As a result, he believes the passenger experience is going to be different than before. “It is going to be better.”

“Airports have taken unprecedented actions to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Burke reflected in his post. “As the eternal optimist, I am confident there is a light at the end of the tunnel and much to be done when we emerge from it. From enhancing airport sustainability and resiliency to taking full advantage of automation and big data to enabling a new generation of aircraft to operate at our airports, we face myriad opportunities to make a difference in the aviation industry.”

Read Burke’s full comments here.

LeAnn Ridgeway, Vice President and General Manager for Information Management Solutions at Collins Aerospace and is also the head of the company’s Redefining Air Travel task force. In a recent interview, we asked Ridgeway to reflect on the lessons learned from this past year.

“In 2020, we focused on reducing the transmission of the disease, and then educating the flying public on the safety protocols in place to fly safe,” Ridgeway recalled. She discussed the importance of educating the public in a clear and easy-to-understand way about the safety standards that were put into place across the board, including creating a contactless passenger journey. “It became relatively safe to fly as compared to everyday activities such as going to the grocery store,” she said, due to the commitment to health and cleaning practices put into place by airports and airlines.

The next wave that impacted the industry happened when the vaccine rollout slowed and new variants of COVID emerged, which impacted travel with new restrictions and additional quarantines put into place. “We had to regroup again as an industry and as we looked at 2021, the focus has shifted again. The traveling public understands the safety measures and they see the consistency now and know what to expect when going through an airport and boarding an aircraft.” 

Now, according to Ridgeway, the issue is “the unknown when arriving at the destination.” Passengers do not know what other states or countries may require in terms of quarantine periods.

“The next phase is for governments to open borders when it is safe. And the industry needs to be working now on how to prepare for this and begin to develop digital health passports and create standards for use across the globe.” Ridgeway is optimistic that with global cooperation and open borders, the aviation industry will start to meet the recovery projections.

“I think we will see a pretty quick rebound once we can solve maybe this last big hurdle, and of course, if the virus doesn’t throw us another curveball,” Ridgeway concluded.

That said, these aviation leaders know that the industry has recovered many times during its history and the lessons learned from each situation have resulted in it building back stronger than before.

Shany Seawright

About Shany Seawright

A senior executive at Strategic Communications Group and Managing Editor of Connected Aviation Today, as well as other publications, Seawright oversees the editorial direction of the publication and managed the editorial staff.