My COVID story begins in the final days of 2019; a time when it was growing apparent that the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, while still relatively contained within the boundaries of China, had the potential to have a dramatic impact around the world. At that time, we could barely imagine what lay ahead of us.
It is impossible to compare the present pandemic to those that have preceded it. The world is a very different place now than it was at the time of the Spanish Flu, which engulfed the world between 1918 and 1920. Since then, the population has grown from 1.8 billion to almost 7.9 billion, means of mass transportation have evolved beyond imagination, and any new virus can circumnavigate the globe in a matter of hours as opposed to months.
Having spent 15 years building the Avia Solutions Group, our plans for 2020 were clearly drawn up as we negotiated the path towards growing the business across all sectors of the group. These were exciting times, with all roads leading towards the IPO which we had planned for summer. However, events of a global magnitude have the ability to make us stop, and think, and this was no exception.
Right around the world companies were being forced to reconsider their plans, many of whom were in a fight for their very survival. As I watched these developments unfold, we made the decision to change our thought process and adapt our strategy for the future. Several major milestones had to be put on hold.
As the world began to grind to a halt, we experienced mixed emotions and a new raft of challenges right across our diversified group. Our priority rested on safeguarding the future, and firmly establishing what we could do to assist the global effort in fighting a devastating and killer pandemic. Like many of our fellow aviation companies, we flew PPE around the world, assisted in the repatriation of stranded travelers, and advised where and how we could. Most recently we are playing a crucial role in the international distribution of various vaccines.
It is difficult to think back to the start of the pandemic, it is almost as if the lines have been completely redrawn. So much has changed, and it will be several years before the aviation industry bounces back to pre-COVID levels of traffic or demand. However, the strength of our group’s diversification and the passion of its employees has given me moments of joy and optimism during an otherwise challenging, disruptive, and distressing year.
Back in March, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) projected a hit to worldwide revenues in the aviation sector of up to $113bn for 2020 – their estimate turned out to be just shy of the mark at an eventual figure of $118bn. Now, with signs of hope on the horizon, the association has estimated that those predicted losses could be cut to $38bn in 2021. Armed with such reliable projections, the industry should be well prepared for the year ahead and have already implemented plans to combat any unforeseen circumstances.
Of course, it’s never possible to prepare for every eventuality, but we must be ready to take an educated leap of fate, using the metrics of the past to prepare us for the future. In the early days of the pandemic, Mike Ryan, the senior WHO epidemiologist commented, “Be fast, have no regrets… If you need to be right before you move, you will never win,” a comment which rings true across all walks of life, and most especially the aviation business during times of uncertainty.
We will all remember the COVID years for a very long time to come, and we can be sure that these trying times will feature heavily in the history books of future generations. But, long before we get there, we all need to play our part in ensuring that the history books remember, and generously illustrate the spirit and determination of humanity as we conquered this virus, and then continued forward together to rebuild our industry and our lives.