The aviation sector has been reeling from the dramatic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Airports are facing severe financial risks as most struggle to cover their most basic operating expenses. But while their ability to fund capital projects may pose another financial risk, airports have reason to maintain and develop their infrastructure. We look at three reasons why.
Before the crisis, the focus of airport expenditure was capacity and sustainability – how to increase capacity and how to decarbonise the airport. But over the last year, the challenge for airports has been to make their operations fit the 'new normal', while trying to move forward.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced many airports to put their infrastructure development on hold – either deferring expansionary projects or scaling back projects considered less essential.
But despite the financial crunch, airports are wise to maintain their infrastructural developments for the following reasons.
Firstly, there is no doubt that there will be regulatory changes to come, relating to the safety and wellbeing of passengers and airport staff. Social distancing measures will have an immediate impact on terminal capacity vis–à–vis traffic.
Regulatory demands calling for healthy distances will be felt in the baggage check–in and reclaim, for example. So, a baggage handling system (BHS) that can provide this will be essential, including:
Secondly, it will be more important than ever that operators make airport infrastructure investments to reduce their costs and improve efficiency to recover revenue. And some of the terminal upgrades are only possible now during times of low traffic. Airports will need to consider technologies and system designs that can achieve operational efficiency in the long term. In their BHS, this may require, for example:
Thirdly, while the ongoing crisis also questions plans to modernise airport infrastructure for sustainability and resiliency, the global airport community remains committed to Sustainable Development Goal number 9. As such, investments in infrastructure will be needed more than ever to accelerate recovery and stimulate job creation.
Airport infrastructure projects such as individual carrier system (ICS) technology in the BHS can help operators meet their SDG 9 goals. ICS technologies can deliver energy savings up to 60 percent compared to conventional belt technology.
It was for this reason that San Francisco Airport decided to install ICS in its baggage handling operation. With the Crisbag® solution’s lower belt friction, easy acceleration of the system and its start/stop feature – where each section of the system only runs when a bag is detected – it could reduce its energy consumption while keeping operational costs low.
Finally, can the global economy afford for airports to be frozen financially? In his closing blog for 2020, the Director General of ACI World, Luis Felipe de Oliveira noted:
"Facilities and infrastructure need to be maintained, adequately staffed, and further developed in response to growing traffic, changing service quality considerations, and health–related regulations [...] The cost associated with keeping airports afloat are more than outweighed by the economic benefits airports bring to aviation and to the global economy."
There are solid reasons why airports must continue to develop their infrastructure in the face of low traffic and revenues. When operations resume, safe distancing for passengers and staff alike will be a requisite. It will be more critical than ever that airports are able to operate at optimal efficiency in order to recover lost revenue. And airports will need to continue to prioritise sustainability and their SDG 9 commitments. Given the value that airport infrastructure such as the BHS will give these imperatives, it may be that infrastructure developments need to be prioritised.