We’ve departed 2020. Turbulence ahead but clear skies are coming

Anybody working in aviation knows just how traumatic 2020 has been.  And there cannot be a single colleague anywhere in the industry who was not looking forward to turning their back on the nightmares of the year. I have worked in two very different aviation roles during the pandemic and it is fair to say that in both, I was waiting for the fresh start and optimism a new year can bring.

As the sun rises in 2021, we need to think ever more positively about the future and we need to focus all of our attention on our industry recovery. As the vaccine rollout intensifies (and our industry plays its role in the distribution), we can focus on a new beginning, but we must not make the mistake of thinking the vaccine will be the answer to all of our prayers.  Of course, it is the start and we commend everyone involved in bringing the vaccine to our arms in record time ꟷ I will await my turn, but will be ready to receive my one or two doses when the time comes. However, the damage done to our sector will take years to repair, with passenger numbers not expected to return to pre-covid levels until 2024 at the earliest, and it’s important that none of us, nor those in government, ever lose sight of this and plan accordingly.       

Governments around the world need to appreciate the significance of the role aviation is playing, and will continue to play, in the global recovery. Confidence to travel again, whether for business or pleasure, will not only help the travel and tourism sector, but will send a stronger message of hope across the world that we are safely opening for business and supporting economies that have been decimated by the pandemic. Some governments recognised this early on and offered the necessary financial support to their aviation businesses. According to IATA, airlines around the world received $173 billion in government funding. But some are floundering and are yet to offer specific support to our industry that is paramount to the wider recovery. 

This position will undoubtedly change as the focus moves away from developing, approving and distributing a vaccine and more towards how economies start to repair the enormous financial damage the pandemic has inflicted on us all ꟷ not least the billions of additional debt taken on across the aviation sector that will now need to be paid back, impacting competition, future investments like greener aircraft and a range of potentially positive innovations that will now have to wait. Considering airline revenues fell from $838 billion in 2019 to $328 billion in 2020, according to IATA, it will be some time before investments will be possible.

Alongside the vaccination programme, a new covid testing regime that enables safer, more confident and flexible travel policies could safeguard the spring and summer travel seasons, which could greatly enhance the prospects for many businesses in our industry. For months, many across our industry have promoted the importance of developing an effective travel testing regime and have worked on numerous proposals. The limited travel I have been able to do in recent months has taken me through various processes and procedures that seem to change every time I fly, so a coordinated and consistent approach to rapid testing and permission to fly is now essential.

It’s hard to believe just how much has changed in such a short space of time and how our industry has changed forever. Thousands of colleagues across the industry have been impacted. Many are still waiting for positive news and to get back to the jobs they love. Some never will, but they will always be a part of our aviation family. And in the middle of all this hurt and tragedy, there are some truly inspirational stories showing that aviation remains not only resilient, but fit to fight another day. Those who work within the sector are undoubtedly some of the most inspirational, entrepreneurial and devoted that I have ever met and I am honoured to work alongside them.

There is no doubt that 2021 is going to be tough, but it will also see great strides forward. None of us expect to reach 2022 with anything like pre-covid levels of traffic.  But by the time we come to celebrate Christmas again, hopefully this time with our families sitting next to us in our homes rather than on Zoom, we will have seen a significant recovery and we will be building for the future.  We have to and we will, but we need to buckle up for the journey as we have storms to pass through before we reach our clear skies.

So as we start the new year in a positive frame of mind, thinking about the opportunities that lie ahead and the challenges we need to face, let us rejoice that the 2020 nightmare has ended.  We are not out of the woods and we should avoid any temptation to convince ourselves otherwise, but we should focus on the opportunity to rebuild and be ready for the moment we all safely take back to the skies and pick up where we left off at the start of 2020.

We wish you all the very best for the year ahead as AeroTime continues to play its part in the recovery in any way that it can. 

Richard Stephenson
AeroTime Hub CEO and a former director of the UK CAA

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