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The Aviation Industry Overview

Introduction

The coronavirus crisis has dramatically disrupted the global aviation industry, threatening airlines’ sustainability and survival, and associated services. Weak tourism, restrictive movements, curtailed income, fear psychosis, and compressed business activities have severely reduced passenger demand endangering commercial airline’s viability (Adrienne, Budd, and Ison, 2020). Aside from the enormous losses resulting from suspended operations, the aviation sector foresees numerous challenges ahead. Some of these problems include a dynamic external environment, geopolitical tension and regulations, changing fuel prices, steep labor costs, intense competition, security threats, and technological disruptions. As such, the aviation sector’s survival in this milieu warrants sweeping turnaround changes in its operational strategies and business models. Newer aircraft designs, updated health and safety guidelines, and greener operational models are some of the corrective methods (Khatib et al., 2020). This essay discusses the aviation industry’s future challenges and proposes measures which airlines, aviation regulatory agencies, and airline personnel can implement to ensure a safe recovery.

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Challenges Facing the Aviation Industry

More immediately, the airlines are likely to experience coronavirus pandemic-induced challenges such as reduced passenger traffic. The Covid-19 outbreak has wreaked havoc on the global economy, and the aviation industry is arguably the worst hit. In the background of aggressively surging Covid-19 cases, it is unlikely that typical passenger traffic will resume soon. Government restricted movements strained disposable incomes and declined tourism are all likely to lower air transportation demand (Macilree and Duval, 2020). Moreover, regulatory bodies’ social distancing provisions to limit further infections will drain the airlines financially. Such measures as leaving seats between passengers unoccupied and the various sanitization norms for airlines’ passengers, crew, and aircraft handling will cut the airlines’ profitability. Therefore, the overall handling of the Covid-19 aftereffects weighs heavily on the aviation industry players.

The majority of air transportation industry dealers experience and foresee dying cash reserves and deteriorating solvency. Capital-intensive business sectors such as airlines and airplane manufacturers are highly dependent on liquidity for profit-boosting (Mustapha, Yazid, and Shamsudin, 2020). Although a few cash-rich corporations are better placed to strike favorable deals with the suppliers – bankers, employees, and oil companies, most other industry players are not. The suspended or slowed operations already imply high cash burn rates, a factor that will impede the full recovery of most airlines. Furthermore, the setting of tight liquidity, high burn rates, and thin margins suggest the aviation industry participants’ fragility to withstanding oil price fluctuations, depreciating currencies, and demand shocks. These events’ impact is devastating and can be vouched for airlines’ and airplane manufacturers’ bankruptcy.

After the coronavirus pandemic, the global geopolitical environment is characterized by unprecedented rivalry between several counties which will negatively impact the aviation industry. Civil unrest plus violent protests have erupted in numerous countries, including the United States, India, and Chile (Khatib et al., 2020). Simultaneously, trade disputes and hegemonic rivalries continue unabated between the United States and China, which comprise a large chunk of the world’s air transportation network (Adrienne, Budd, and Ison, 2020). Besides, many countries have imposed measures such as banning foreign citizens’ visas to restrict movements—these events lower air transport utility, implying low turnover for the aviation industry. Additionally, the sector faces acute pilot shortages, but the Asia-Pacific region has the needed human resources. Thus, the deteriorating diplomatic and trade relationship between China and the United States will adversely affect pilot supply (Adrienne, Budd, and Ison, 2020). Further, different training thresholds are not recognized internationally, worsening the aviation sector workforce supply.

National self-serving over joint action is imposing a severe threat to aviation. Despite governments’ full awareness of the aviation industry’s essential nature to global trade and communications, national self-interest still prevails when reconstituting a dying airline system. Most of these governments deem the aviation sector as strategically linked to the country’s economic development. Therefore, the governments use such parameters as market size, local employment, and economic conditions to select which airlines to support (Macilree and Duval, 2020). The net result of this government interference in air transportation is the distortion of free-market conditions, which allow fair competition among different enterprises. Furthermore, the government meddling by way of subsidies introduces hurdles that tip the playing field to the benefit of more extensive, mostly national airlines (Macilree and Duval, 2020). This biased favoring of national airlines has been occurring even in supposedly free air transport markets like the United States. To this end, increased policy involvement reverses part of the advancement made in aviation market liberalization and the subsequent benefits for operators and users.

Disruptive technological innovations impact and shape many capital-intensive parts of the economy. The air transportation industry has experienced and continues to face diverse technical challenges. The current trend of the Internet of Things, advanced robotics, automation, and predictive analytics necessitate the industry’s preparation for and adoption of the new technologies. The integration of the Internet of Things – the interconnectedness of various technological products, can improve passenger experience, and assist baggage handling (Mustapha, Yazid, and Shamsudin, 2020). The utilization of Artificial Intelligence by airlines to build a brand and boost sales through digital marketing is likely to stiffen competition. Concurrently, using Artificial Intelligence to profile user interactions through interactive marketing platforms can enable airlines to gain a competitive edge. These changes are likely to make it difficult for cash-trapped airlines that lack the financial might to adopt these technological innovations.

Measures for Aviation Industry’s Safe Recovery

To ensure the safe resumption of operations, the airlines should adopt and support numerous risk mitigation measures. Firstly, airlines need to communicate with employees and passengers before their arrival to discourage those infected from coming to the airport (Schoening and Grimaldi, 2020). This information will ensure that airplane users are accurately informed regarding coronavirus transmission risks and the various public health measures implemented for different populations. Secondly, airlines should collect current crew and passenger information for contact tracing. This information should be passed in an electronic format to the US Centre for Disease Control, which further disperses it to the destination health authorities beforehand. This measure allows timely case finding and immediate isolation and quarantining of exposed contacts.

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Further, airlines and airports should enforce measures to ensure that people stay physically distanced in all shared spaces. The CDC recommends at least six feet gap between people unless they are family (Schoening and Grimaldi, 2020). This distance between people helps reduce infections’ spread since SARS-CoV-2, the covid-19 causing virus, significantly transmits among people in prolonged close contact. Moreover, the airlines should ensure that all air transport users correctly wear masks or protective cloth covering, especially when physical distancing is challenging to maintain. The use of cloth coverings prevents respiratory droplets from launching into the air and landing on others when talking or sneezing (Schoening and Grimaldi, 2020). Additionally, airlines and airports must clean and disinfect all areas with possible human contact and spread, according to CDC-defined schedules. More attention is required to be dedicated to the high-touch surfaces such as armrests, door handles, elevator buttons, and escalator handrails to kill the virus timely.

The aviation industry regulators are required to play oversight roles to ensure the safe recovery of operations. Such sector regulators as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the Airports Council International (ACI), are charged with enforcing safe recovery measures for aviation sector players (Macilree and Duval, 2020). These regulatory bodies should recommend and endorse guidelines for countries regarding Covid-19 testing plus cross-boundary risk mitigation tactics. Correct implementation of testing within states could lower dependency on other preventive interventions like quarantine which limit air travel, and which continue to disincentivize many travel categories. Furthermore, the regulators should develop a generic instrument for decision-making to help determine the intrinsic and residual risk status of ferrying potentially infectious passengers.

The air transport sector regulators should encourage countries to intensify their collaborative efforts toward Public Health Corridor (PHC) implementation. The PHC results when at least two states acknowledge each other’s public health strategies adopted between their routes. To allow for that mutual recognition, these regulators must encourage countries to share data and enter into multilateral talks to ensure harmonious PHC implementation (Khatib et al., 2020). Moreover, restarting travel after a significant proportion of aircrew, global fleet, and other airport operation workers have been in prolonged inactivity will require reactivation. Additionally, protracted differences from ICAO standards on issues related to personnel licensing and certification could threaten operational safety. Therefore, aviation regulatory authorities should implore governments to define strategies that correct those gaps.

Further, the safe resumption of aviation operations requires aircrew and personnel to undertake several safety measures. During off duty, the crew should monitor personal health for symptoms of Covid-19 infection such as high fever and difficulty breathing (Khatib et al., 2020). While in flight, the team should periodically carry out spaced temperature checks depending on flight duration. In case a crew is suspected or confirmed through inflight testing, to be infected, they should be mask fitted and isolated. Besides, crew members and personnel should only report for duty if they have completed personal certification statements that help verify their health monitoring (Stewart and Harris, 2019). Similarly, the aviation workforce should correctly apply precautions, which limit the exposure pending infection, such as respiratory etiquette, hand washing, and wearing and removal of masks and other personal protective equipment. The air transport sector workforce should also be required to maintain clean sanitized surroundings to prevent potentially infectious contacts.

Analysis of Current Regulations

Several policies have been placed to ensure the airworthiness of crafts to achieve the goal of zero flight accidents. In most cases, the rules cut across different stakeholders in the aviation industry from the government oversight team, international oversight authority, the various airlines, and their personnel. Among the personnel, the key players include pilots, engineers, customer services, ATC, ramp operators, and ground handlers (Batuwangala, Silva, and Wild, 2018). The international civil aviation organization (ICAO) was set up after the second world war to oversee long-distance travel, which was fast becoming a reality. The body is charged with the administration and management of the Chicago convention to support a safe, secure, and efficient aviation industry (Serrano and Kazda, 2020). Therefore, ICAO develops policies and practices that are economically sustainable and environmentally friendly to guide local civil aviation operations. Additionally, the body coordinates assistance and capacity building for states to support aviation development objectives and deal with unexpected scenarios such as the current pandemic.

Several regulations have been put in place to enforce the airworthiness of all flights from local to international levels. Some of the regulations include the maintenance of aircraft following the provisions of Annex 1 (Dempsey & Jakhu, 2019). Everyone involved in the production and running of the aviation industry is therefore required to adhere to the said provisions. Within the articles of the legal basis in Annex 1, certificate of airworthiness, condition of issue, and maintenance of the aircraft. Besides, there is the flexibility of provisions, free movement of persons, and recognition of licenses inclusive of the responsibilities of the holders of the certificates (Singh, 2019).

The regulations guide the responsibilities of the various stakeholders in the industry. For instance, the operator of an aircraft is responsible for the airworthiness of the aircraft they operate. As such, they are expected to adhere to the airworthiness management procedures and outline. During this pandemic, most airlines have limited movement, especially in passenger carriers due to the covid-19 restrictions (Mhalla, 2020). The management of the airlines within UAE is therefore expected to assess the various options available for safety both for the airplanes and health-wise. For the case of maintenance, the regulations outline strict adherence to the set policies for the different management and preservation procedures. The operator must ensure the issuance of a certificate of release after maintenance before the plane is authorized to resume duty.

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Comparisons

Most airlines in different countries adhere to the international standards drawn from the Chicago Convention. However, there are slight variations worth noting, for example, in comparing UAE GCAA SMS, EASA SMS, and FAA SMS. The fundamental basis of the policies is directly drawn from ICAO Annex 19 although the maintenance of the SMS varies considerably. One example is evident in the Civil Aviation Regulation, where GCAA advocates SMS while FAA advocates SMS in Safety Management System Voluntary Implementation (Kistan et al., 2017). Additionally, the FAA outlines a relatively more process-oriented system safety compared to UAE. There are additional measures taken by the FAA, such as the provision of assessment tools for MRO organizations. GCAA outlines its regulations with legal enforcement, especially in the SMS while FAA advocates for voluntary adherence to the standards.

Cost Implications of the existing regulations

The current regulations have a direct linear impact on the costs of running the airlines. The costs cut across and are experienced in every area such as quality control which is equally dependent on several aspects of the organization from prevention costs, appraisal costs, internal failure costs, and external failure costs. Each of the elements plays a remarkable role in the promotion of business. Prevention cost includes the overall cost of preparing and implementing a quality plan while appraisal costs include the cost of testing, assessing, and inspecting the nature of the situation (Batuwangala, Silva, and Wild, 2018). For organizations that are involved in the maintenance of large aircraft mostly used for commercial air transport, to adhere to the provisions of Annex II, they need a substantial financial capacity. Presently, most planes are grounded and need maintenance that overwhelms their capacity. Besides, the process is rigorous and capital intensive.

Gaps and Alternative Solutions

The regulations state that the airworthiness certificate should be issued after a maximum of three years from the time of issuance. The certificate of airworthiness (C of A) refers to the formal document issued by the NAA to certify the safety of a plane. In essence, a full review of the airplane records and survey of the plane usage by a given organization such as Emirates Airlines is done (Uva, 2018). The feedback from the review is re-evaluated, and if viable, it is approved, and the plane can continue its operations. However, during the influx of the virus, the demand for commercial air transport has declined. The decline in work creates a scenario where airplanes cannot work as expected. Thus, it necessitates the preservation of the planes to maintain their airworthiness. However, the cost implications of this mode of approach are very high, and the airlines may incur enormous losses.

There are increasing complexities and dynamics in the aviation industry, which most of the existing regulations may not cover fully. Thus, there is a need for a review of the regulations to cater to the impact of the pandemic, which has created an unprecedented turnover. The health issues associated with flights, the screening of passengers for covid-19 need to be incorporated in the regulations (Zhang, 2020). The rapid transition and uncertainties that lie ahead would need a new kind of GCAA response. The infrastructural development of some of the airlines such as Abu Dhabi Airspace equally poses operational and regulatory challenges (Scott, 2020). The integration of the health guidelines, training, preservation, and resumption of normal flight operations require extensive research. The research should cut across different areas of expertise from the medical team, the customer service, the engineers to the immigration department for inclusive analysis. The study is likely to identify more gaps and come up with relevant solutions before daily activities normalize again.

Conclusion

The coronavirus pandemic has heavily devastated various sectors of the world economy. Notably, its paralyzing effects on the aviation industry have been unexpected. The reduction in air transport demand that resulted from movement restrictions enforced by regulatory authorities saw various airlines deplete their cash reserves, and deteriorate their solvency. The decrease in operations also implies that airlines have to adopt aircraft preservation measures that are highly capital intensive. Likewise, the regulatory authorities have been required to come up with recovery guidelines that would ensure safety when operations resume. To ensure aircraft worthiness, various regulatory bodies such as the ICAO, FAA, EASA, and UAE GCAA, are charged with the responsibility to design safety guidelines for aircraft and personnel. These bodies can conduct an extensive study on the current pandemic to have a better grasp of the most appropriate policies. Besides, ICAO, EASA, and UAE GCAA can review the certification review and build a new licensing framework.

Reference List

Adrienne, N., Budd, L. and Ison, S., (2020). Grounded aircraft: an airfield operations perspective of the challenges of resuming flights post COVID. Journal of Air Transport Management, 89, p.101921.

Batuwangala, E., Silva, J. and Wild, G., (2018) ‘The regulatory framework for safety management systems in airworthiness organisations. Aerospace, 5(4), p.117.

Budd, L. and Ison, S., (2020) Responsible transport: a post-COVID agenda for transport policy and practice. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 6, p.100151.

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Dempsey, P. S., & Jakhu, R. (2019) Routledge handbook of public aviation law. Routledge.

Khatib, A.N., Carvalho, A.M., Primavesi, R., To, K. and Poirier, V., (2020) ‘Navigating the risks of flying during COVID-19: a review for safe air travel.’ Journal of Travel Medicine.

Kistan, T., Gardi, A., Sabatini, R., Ramasamy, S. and Batuwangala, E., (2017) ‘An evolutionary outlook of air traffic flow management techniques.’ Progress in Aerospace Sciences, 88, pp.15-42.

Macilree, J. and Duval, D.T., (2020) ‘Aeropolitics in a post-COVID-19 world.’ Journal of Air Transport Management, 88, p.101864.

Mhalla, M., (2020) The impact of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the global oil and aviation markets. Journal of Asian Scientific Research, 10(2), p.96.

Mustapha, N.N.S.N., Yazid, M.F.M. and Shamsudin, M.F., (2020) ‘How airline industry may rise post covid-19 pandemic.’ Journal of Postgraduate Current Business Research, 1(1).

Schoening, E. and Grimaldi, L.A., (2020) Airlines tighten mask restrictions, partner with COVID-19 testing providers. Northstar Meetings Group.

Scott, B.I., (2020) ‘National aviation law responses to COVID-19.’ Air and Space Law, 45(Special issue). pp. 195 – 272

Serrano, F. and Kazda, A., (2020) The future of airport post COVID-19. Journal of Air Transport Management, 89, p.101900.

Singh, A., (2019) Understanding aviation law through the evolving concept of sovereignty beyond the traditional deep blue skies. Available at SSRN 3615130.

Stewart, N. and Harris, D., (2019) Passenger attitudes to flying on a single-pilot commercial aircraft. Aviation Psychology and Applied Human Factors. pp. 77-85.

Uva, R.S., (2018) ‘The international dimension of EASA under the new basic regulation.’ Air and Space Law, 43(4/5). pp. 411 – 429

Zhang, J., (2020). ‘Transport policymaking that accounts for COVID-19 and future public health threats: a PASS approach.’ Transport Policy, 99, pp.405-418.

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