Covid in the business aviation of Cyprus and Europe
Three years ago, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic, triggering a largely uncoordinated global response. These two shocks led to a worldwide health, economic and social crisis, the effects of which continue to this day.
To date, all coronavirus restrictions have been lifted in Cyprus, both for local residents and for tourists arriving on the island. At the same time, rather strict measures were in place at the airports of Larnaca and Paphos, under which passengers were required to present a certificate with a negative PCR test result for Covid-19, which was made within 48 hours. In addition, the Cypriot authorities carried out systemic vaccination, which has borne fruit. Tough but competent actions of the state made it possible to overcome the pandemic, and business aviation was able to start active work again. At the moment, Cyprus accepts private jets from all over the world and also operates flights to Europe and the CIS countries. Below we look at how the pandemic began and what difficulties arose in private aviation.
Start of the pandemic
The coronavirus has been spreading since its outbreak in China in December 2019, and less than three months after the pandemic was declared, federal, provincial, state, municipal, and other governments around the world enacted a host of regulations that overnight suspended aviation activities, as well as most other areas of world trade.
No need to talk about spoilers - the remarkable comeback of business aviation due to Covid has been widely reported and celebrated. This recovery was hardly a foregone conclusion as financial, regulatory, health, and safety concerns threatened to bring the industry down, as anyone on the front lines can attest. The recovery comes amid unprecedented supply and demand issues that the industry is still working through.
But the past three years have left a number of questions: what are the key factors that have enabled business aviation to cope with the unique challenges of the pandemic? What has the industry done right, what could have been done better, how has it changed, and what can be done to prepare for the next pandemic?
Crisis in private aviation
In the US, where transportation is classified as a "critical infrastructure sector" as recognized by many countries, aviation-related businesses and workers have, in many cases, been exempted from stay-at-home orders and other emergency restrictions, but this has not helped mitigate economic risks. and health risks or provide the answers they were looking for immediately after the adoption of the WHO declaration.
"Companies are faced with the challenge of 'how do we keep the business', but equally, 'how do we make sure that we adhere to all safety standards, and how do we train our teams, and how do we keep our cash flow?'," the president of Argus International Mike McCready said.
For aviation medicine and operations professionals, simply "keeping track of how countries, cities, and other municipalities are coping with rising cases and travel restrictions" has become an all-consuming task, added a spokesman for MedAire, which advises business aviation clients and more than 180 airlines around the world. world on health and safety issues.
When the pandemic was announced, Charlotte, North Carolina, was hosting the NBAA's annual conference of planners and dispatchers, and "the March madness was in full swing," recalled Ed Bolen, the organization's president and CEO. The conference ended hastily as participants exchanged premature goodbyes. “At the NBAA — and I think a lot of companies — we told our people, 'Take your laptops home. We will be working from home for a while,” Bolen said. “We didn't know how long. That's when it all became very real."
Many airports faced their own economic crisis as aftershocks hit and their tenant businesses largely shut down. “Some communities had a moratorium on rent, which meant that the airports themselves could not pay,” said Curt Castagna, President and CEO (at the time Chairman of the Board) of the National Air Transport Association (NATA) and a member of the District Aviation Commission. Los Angeles. "We've seen all these potential economic snowballs that could come crashing down."
Fleet operators had to make important financial and operational decisions based on little more than gut instinct. “No one knew when the market would recover, and there were many factors that we had no real control over,” said Leona Qi, president of VistaJet US. “The first reaction of many companies was to lay off employees,” she said.
At the same time, these same operators were laying unexplored routes in the air and on the ground. In the USA, this included sometimes operating with zero ATC support following the closure of checkpoints caused by the pandemic. “Our biggest challenge and our highest priority has been to ensure the health and well-being of our passengers and our flight and ground crew,” said Flexjet CEO Mike Silvestro.
Survive in a new anomaly
Communication—sharing information with colleagues, industry peers, regulators, and officials—proved early on to be an essential survival skill during the pandemic. With new federal regulations on medically safe transportation procedures, "people were picking up phones, working with each other to figure out the rules, regardless of the operation—competitors were working together," McCready from Argus said.
Companies and people began to "evolve and adapt," Bolen said. “As organizations learned about cleaning up or putting crews in bubbles, they shared that information, and people learned from each other what worked and what didn’t, whether it was at the production level or at the flight control level – everyone was involved and learning."
In Europe, members of the European Business Aviation Association have “worked closely with regulators, health authorities and industry partners to develop best practices for aviation safety and quickly adapt to new operating procedures and technologies to support operations,” said EBAA Senior Communications Manager Roman Kok.
In the meantime, enterprises actively applied the newly acquired knowledge. Flexjet "has taken an aggressive approach to Covid prevention," Silvestro said. Crew members were tested for Covid before each flight, and medical protocols were applied in flight. Flexjet has also repurposed several aircraft as corporate shuttles, allowing crew members to avoid scheduled airline flights and potential exposure to the coronavirus.
“MedAire has doubled its investment in infrastructure and provided new and diverse information to help customers better plan and adapt to an ever-changing environment,” said CEO Bill Dolny. Although its airline customers' operations have been scaled back, usage of MedAire's services among business aviation customers has grown by more than 30% due to both medical and security concerns "due to Covid's impact on security personnel and the safety profile of airport facilities.
How was the fight against the virus in Cyprus
A number of new anti-COVID measures and recommendations were approved by members of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Cyprus on 11 January. They were developed by the Ministry of Health together with a team of epidemiologists. The recommendations of the EU Health Security Committee were taken into account.
- From 05:00 on Sunday, January 15, all passengers on direct or connecting flights arriving at the airports of the Republic of Cyprus from China must present a certificate with a negative PCR test result for Covid-19. The test must be taken within 48 hours before departure.
- A private company will carry out wastewater analysis at Larnaca and Paphos airports and on ships after they arrive in Cyprus. The Ministry of Health will hold a tender, the winner of which will carry out checks.
- The Ministry of Health strongly recommended the use of protective medical masks and personal hygiene measures (wash hands, keep social distance, etc.) on all flights arriving in and departing from Cyprus, as well as at the terminals of Larnaca and Paphos airports. Wearing masks is optional!
It is worth noting that the proposal for random testing for Covid-19 at the expense of the state of passengers arriving at the airports of Larnaca and Paphos was not included in the final list of decisions approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.
The Government of the Republic of Cyprus has extended the previously introduced covid measures by two months, until March 15. There are two main requirements: masks in transport and hospitals and “safe passes” (SafePass) in medical institutions.
- Masks are still required in city and intercity buses, as well as shuttles between airports and cities in the Republic of Cyprus.
- In hospitals, the mask regime applies to all adults and children over 12 years of age.
- SafePass is required for visitors and hospital patients over the age of six who are undergoing outpatient treatment or diagnosis or undergoing laboratory tests. This can be a negative test result valid for 48 hours (rapid test) or 72 hours (PCR test), a vaccination certificate, or a certificate of recovery from Covid-19.
There are currently no other restrictions and measures to combat the spread of coronavirus infection in the Republic of Cyprus.
Rebound and shock state
In April 2020, U.S. business aviation operations hit rock bottom with about 75,000 flights per month, according to Argus. Charter flights are down 67%, private flights are down 72%, and share flights are down 80% compared to last year. In the same month, activity in Europe fell by more than 70%.
But from that moment on, business aviation traffic grew, turning into a real deluge in the summer caused by health problems and the accompanying sharp drop in commercial flight activity. Charter, card, and share programs have reported unprecedented demand. Leona Qi of VistaJet US recalls a flood of calls from people "asking how they can check in and fly" and then, "One day in July, we saw that the number of flights was already back to pre-pandemic levels."
But the recovery has exacerbated the effects of Covid-induced supply chain disruption in business aviation, leading to "service disruptions, maintenance issues, and pilot shortages." “That's when we learned that there is actually a limited number of aircraft and crew,” said Craig Ross, founder, and CEO of Aviation Portfolio, a consulting firm that advises clients on business jet access programs.
Some providers, including Flexjet and NetJets, which experienced the most demand, have suspended membership and sale of share programs. Others were looking for ways to serve new customers. Wheels Up, for example, combined "technological advances" and "strategic acquisitions" to improve operations and increase supply.
Meanwhile, the much-discussed pre-pandemic pilot and maintenance shortage has spilled over to business aviation professionals of all stripes — data scientists and technical analysts, project and customer support managers, planners, and dispatchers.
The shortage has also accelerated and expanded diversity and inclusiveness efforts in the industry, one of the positives of the pandemic, NATA's Castagna noted, as FBO, MRO, and others have "adapted their HR and hiring efforts to be more creative in attracting people." to the industry."
But, Castagna added, from now on, any such talent attraction efforts must take into account another change brought about by the pandemic: a shift in priorities among today's employees in "work-life balance and the importance of family." According to him, “business aviation companies are already transforming” to meet these new expectations “from pilots to technicians. We didn’t have that point of view early on,” he said.
The pandemic has not only brought about change but has "accelerated existing trends in business aviation," Kok told the EBAA. He cited digitalization and sustainability as two of these trends, with the latter seeing increased "focus on reducing emissions and promoting sustainable aviation fuels."
However, while telecommuting and virtual meetings, which have become staple jobs during the pandemic, have reduced the need for some travel, Kok noted that the pandemic has also led Europe to "increased demand for flexible on-demand travel options." as it happened in the USA.
Meanwhile, consolidation among charter operators and FBOs, another trend that came into full bloom when Covid hit, has certainly not been slowed down by the need for more fleets and access to aircraft. For example, Wheels Up, Directional Aviation Capital, Flexjet's parent company, and VistaJet grew through acquisitions and cite the efficiencies achieved by the expansion and the customer benefits it brought. But the ultimate impact of the wave of merger deals on aircraft sharing cannot be deduced from operations and fleet data, which reflect the Covid-driven unprecedented rise in demand across the industry.
A new attitude to travel
The surge in demand demonstrates that changing expectations and attitudes are not limited to employees. The reorientation of priorities among the public has played a large role in attracting new business aviation customers, responsible for much of the post-pandemic demand for private flying and increasing demand among regular users. The pandemic has "taught everyone to value things differently," Wheels Up said, referring to the strengthening of the "experience economy." A spokesperson said: “Consumers in the experience economy are demanding not only to travel a lot but to travel well; the priority is the quality of the experience, not the quantity.”
Wealthy travelers, Flexjet's Silvestro added, are "reconsidering the use of their capital and channeling it into private jet travel, although they may have used their capital differently in the past." There's also a shift "in what owners and customers want," he said.
“Families and leadership groups want to travel together and be able to travel long distances in comfort,” he said. "We see this as part of a long-term trend away from a hybrid commercial/private flight model to a model in which private aviation takes up a larger share of traffic." Silvestro said customers are also demanding "more speed and convenience on the ground," which will spur investment in infrastructure.
Leona Qi of VistaJet US confirms: “We continue to invest in ourselves and develop our infrastructure to be ready for whatever may come. Take on the next storm: this is the main lesson we have learned from the pandemic,” she said.
But going forward, domestic investment should include education and training programs to develop employees continually, Castagna said, and he believes this is a "higher priority than infrastructure or other capital investments by companies."
But despite investments, initiatives, and concerted efforts to meet demand, supply chain problems and staff shortages show no signs of easing, and while suppliers talk about the challenges of meeting the demand created, customers feel it personally.
“The supply chain, the lack of pilots, the challenges of the pandemic – there’s a whole list of excuses that have allowed our industry to lower the bar on service,” said Aviation Portfolio’s Ross, who represents clients in a number of charter and share programs. “These industry issues are real, but you run the business,” he continued. “You have to figure out how to get better, how to improve, how to develop. You don't wave the white flag and say, "This is an industry thing, so we just won't be as good as we used to be."
Meanwhile, Castagna warned that the changing demands of another key group could upend the industry if ignored: “Communities around general aviation airports that are seeing increased [post-pandemic] activity are questioning the impact on their quality of life,” he said. , while citing the ongoing high-profile efforts to close the airport as major measures.
He recommended firing "business owners and executives as key ambassadors" and "redefining the value of business aviation" to focus on growing mass access opportunities such as Part 380 charter flights (purchasing a single seat on a jet) and cargo delivery to night time. “There is a misrepresentation that business aviation is only for one percent of the population, which is not true,” he said. "It's about moving goods and people."
Ready or Not
The federal public health emergency related to Covid-19 officially expires on May 11.
Among the positives for business aviation: “We know better how to communicate, how to work remotely, and we know more about health issues than before,” Bolen said. "Going through something like this makes you stronger, but 'stronger' doesn't mean going through it unscathed."
Another plus, he says, "the enduring benefits of business aviation, recognized by many people, may have been overestimated and better understood at a time when flexibility, predictability, and safety were called into question."
In terms of potential areas for improvement, EBAA's Kok said that business aviation "could benefit from more thorough contingency planning, especially in terms of supply chain disruptions and adapting to changing travel restrictions."
Argus's McCready, whose audit services cover all aspects of operating procedures, said a number of companies it certified "want to be more proactive" in developing pandemic contingency plans. "We're looking at how changes like modifying their SMS can help better fit today's challenges - who said we shouldn't include this in our instruction manuals so we have a base to work from?"
Looking back and looking forward, MedAire strongly recommended recognizing the impact of the pandemic on mental health, citing an increase in "anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among aviation industry workers, including pilots, flight attendants, and ground staff."
In response, airline companies must provide employees with mental health resources and support, MedAire notes. Left unaddressed, these issues "can lead to long-term mental health consequences, including chronic stress, burnout and reduced job satisfaction, which can ultimately affect the safety and efficiency of the aviation industry."
Source: AINonline (ainonline.com)