Industry News




Japan’s Haneda Airport to utilise WHILL autonomous drive system

Haneda International Airport in Japan has decided to utilise the WHILL autonomous drive system to transport passengers with reduced mobility.

The autonomous machine is designed to replace wheelchairs by transporting passengers who face difficulties in walking long distances or who have limited mobility to their designated boarding gates.

The system is compatible with the WHILL autonomous models and operates using sensors and area maps. After transporting the passenger, the self-driving machine is capable of returning to the base automatically.

The introduction of the system will help the Japanese airport to reduce contagion risks through contact between wheelchair service staff and passengers amid the Covid-19 crisis.

WHILL CEO Satoshi Sugie said: “In the coronavirus era, we believe services that support mobility while maintaining social distancing will accelerate to replace human labour with robots and autonomous driving technologies.

“WHILL wants to provide a safe service that connects the last mile. We look forward to rapidly developing our business in order to help restore a world where people can move around with peace of mind and enjoyment.”

The company has piloted the self-driving wheelchair system at several airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and John F Kennedy International Airport in the US, as well as Abu Dhabi International Airport in the UAE and Winnipeg International Airport in Canada.

Overall, 11 trials were carried out, where around 400 passengers and airport officials used the self-driving system.

The company is now working to introduce the machine to other airports.

Earlier this year, All Nippon Airways (ANA) carried out an autonomous electric bus trial at Haneda International Airport.




Long-term impact of Covid-19 on aviation finance unclear

Even as the aviation finance sector is gearing up for Covid-19 disturbance with aircraft market values and lease rental factors dropping due to weak demand for air transport, the pandemic’s long term impact is currently unclear, says Scope Ratings.

European credit rating agency also added that with the decrease of aircraft market values and lease rental factors, the aviation finance sector may see some disturbances.

According to Scope Ratings, a prolonged fall in the value of aircraft and leasing costs may help surviving airlines to acquire new aircraft. However, for airlines and aircraft lessors, the low aircraft values and lease rentals pose a burden.

Scope aviation finance analyst Helen Spro said: “Take the sale and lease back of unencumbered aircraft, which is one way that airlines can cope with some of the extra debt they have taken on to get through the crisis.

“The catch is that the level of financial benefit from a sale and lease back is directly correlated to the sales price the airlines can obtain for the aircraft.”

Lessors can only benefit in this situation if they are financially capable to undertake new acquisitions right now.

However, the demand for leasing new airlines will be reduced as the industry is expected to face a slump in air travel growth, with the assumption that world economic growth will recover slowly from the Covid-19 crisis.

The company stated that the importance of aircraft lessors has helped ‘distribute risk evenly’ in the aviation sector given the high residual value risk of a passenger jet is for airlines.

Spro added: “Avoiding this risk is one of the reasons airlines enter leasing contracts instead of owning their whole fleet, leaving lessors holding the residual value risk of the aircraft in their possession.

“If the crisis continues, many airlines are likely to use unencumbered aircraft to secure capital through sale-and-leaseback transactions. Considering a leasing contract is normally signed for between six and 12 years, the impact on the aviation market could be felt well into the next decade.”

There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the aviation finance outlook.

Spro said: “Much depends on whether lenders and lessors remain willing to enter aircraft transactions without a strong rebound in demand for air travel, and the extent to which carriers retire planes from existing fleets.”

If the pandemic results in a high oversupply in the market, aircraft models may be retired and sold for parts.

Spro added: “This could, of course, lead to an even balance between aircraft being parted out and new lease contracts which would mean that the level of leased aircraft will remain similar to today’s in the future.”

However, if a large number of the fleets are parted out, the lessors will be affected. This will not provide new businesses to lessors, which will put them under pressure.




ACI World announces 55.9% decrease in passenger traffic in March

Airports Council International (ACI) World has announced that, in March 2020, worldwide passenger traffic decreased by 55.9% compared to the same month the year before.

In February this year, passenger numbers increased by 10.7%.

The decrease in passenger numbers is attributed to the effects of Covid-19.

Global passenger traffic in the first quarter of the year saw a decrease of 22.7%. The rolling average of the 12-month passenger numbers decreased by 3.1% by the end of March.

For the freight industry, traffic saw a decrease of 6.9% while the global 12-month rolling average decreased by 3.8% as of the end of March.

ACI World director general Angela Gittens said: “The second week of March was a turning point for the reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic as national governments implemented strict confinement measures, which brought the industry to a virtual halt.

“While the crisis’ impact on passenger traffic was mostly in the Asia-Pacific in February, March figures showed its spread across the world, affecting both domestic and international markets.

“Global freight volumes have not been affected to the same extent as passenger traffic. The need to move time-sensitive shipments and vital supplies, including urgent medical supplies, and goods to support the global economy, helped the freight industry avoid the level of declines in demand experienced by the passenger traffic segment.”

The global international market saw a decrease of 62.4% in passenger numbers while the domestic markets recorded a 50.6% decrease.

Asia-Pacific was the most affected market, with a decrease of 77.6% while the Middle Ease saw a decline of 58.6%. North America and Europe saw decreases of 50.4% and 60.1% respectively.

Last month, ACI World issued new guidance to assist airports in the resumption of operations and the recovery of business amidst the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.




Swissport offers cargo services for UN and World Food Programme

Swissport is the key cargo handler at the Liège and Accra airports, which have been chosen by United Nations’ World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) as logistics hubs for shipping medical supplies in the fight against Covid-19.

Swissport is providing cargo services to transport the medical and humanitarian material to countries in need of help.

Belgium’s Liège Airport (LGG) and Kotoka International Airport (ACC) in Accra, Ghana, are part of a network of eight UN global logistics hubs that ship aid supplies globally.

Shipments on the LGG-ACC routing are handled by Swissport on arrival and departure. It is in charge of three weekly Air Ghana flights, which carries WFP cargo, between Liège Airport and Kotoka International Airport.

The global collapse of commercial air travel and border closures have been hindering aid agencies and health authorities from bringing supplies to fragile areas, the company noted.

Swissport Global Operations Cargo vice-president Hendrik Leyssens said: “Swissport plays an important role as part of a resilient global logistics chain. We are pleased to contribute to these relief efforts with our expertise in safe and reliable logistics.

“The transport of medical and humanitarian equipment to Africa is crucial, especially now that the importance of efficient logistics is greater than ever.”

The first flight, which departed from Liège on 30 April, carried 16 metric tonnes of medical cargo and personal protective equipment on behalf of UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was shipped to Burkina Faso, Ghana and the Republic of Congo.

Around 100 million face masks and gloves will be passing through Liège Airport every month, along with 25 million breathing devices and 25 million Covid-19 test kits.




AGS Airports implements Covid-19 safety measures

AGS Airports in the UK has implemented different health measures to increase the safety for passengers and staff amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The measures follow the plans of some airlines to restart domestic operations later this month.

AGS Airports owns and manages three UK airports in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton.

Passengers will have to wear facial coverings in the airports while all the staff will receive personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks.

Key areas such as the check-in and security halls are installed with protective screens and passengers are advised to follow safe social distancing wherever possible.

It has also increased the cleaning routines with an increased focus on hard surface disinfection.

The company has also started the use of electrostatic fogging machines, that are said to disinfect surfaces in two minutes.

An antimicrobial product is being used for passenger touchpoints such as security trays and is 99.99% effective against Covid-19.

The airport operator has set up hand sanitiser dispensers, self-cleaning stations for trollies, floor markers for social distancing and signage throughout the airports.

Passengers who exhibit Covid-19 symptoms have been asked not to travel to avoid the spread of infection.

AGS Airports CEO Derek Provan said: “Our airports have remained open throughout this pandemic to provide crucial lifeline services. During this time, we’ve worked closely with both the UK and Scottish Governments, and their officials, to ensure we follow all health guidance.

“As the lockdown begins to ease and airlines start to confirm plans to restart domestic connectivity, it’s important we do everything we possibly can to keep our airports clean and safe for our staff and for our passengers.

“These measures, which are in place at all three of our airports, will ensure we help each other to travel safely through our terminals at a time when we are working to get our country and the economy moving again.”

In March, AGS Airports announced that it will implement temporary restrictions to ensure the safety of the staff at its three airports.




Qantas to reopen airport lounges next month

Australian airline company Qantas is preparing to reopen its airport lounges next month as lockdown and travel restriction ease and air travel begins to show signs of returning.

According to a report by Executive Traveller, the airline will gradually reopen its domestic Qantas Club and Qantas Business lounges from July as it scales up to meet school holiday demand and towards 40% of its pre-pandemic flying capacity.

Qantas temporarily closed down its lounges in March in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.

The airline reportedly plans to reopen the lounges gradually, based on the travellers booking flights on Qantas and, in some cases, Jetstar.

The report suggests that the reopened lounges will limit guest capacity to comply with social distancing requirements and to avoid passengers clustering too close together. Instead of self-serve buffets, the lounges will offer pre-packaged meals and snacks.

In addition, hand-sanitising stations will be placed near the entry and around the lounge.

Meanwhile, Qantas and Jetstar are set to increase their domestic and regional flights for June and July, with more than 300 more return flights added per week.

Both airlines are planning to deploy more employees to operate and support their services to support additional flights.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “We are gradually adding flights in June as demand levels increase, which will go from 5% of pre-crisis levels currently to 15% by late June.

“We can quickly ramp up flying in time for the July school holidays if border restrictions have eased more by then. Normally, we plan our capacity months in advance, but in the current climate we need to be flexible to respond to changing restrictions and demand levels.”




Virgin Atlantic to resume limited services from Heathrow Airport

UK airline Virgin Atlantic will resume passenger operations with services to Orlando, Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York JFK and Los Angeles from London Heathrow Airport in the UK.

The services will resume from 20 and 21 July.

This measure follows the gradual restart of operations and the relaxation of Covid-19 travel restrictions by other countries.

From 20 July, Virgin Atlantic plans to resume some routes and steadily increase the services.

Virgin Atlantic chief commercial officer Juha Jarvinen said: “Our planned first flights will be to Orlando and Hong Kong on the 20 July, however, we are monitoring external conditions extremely closely, in particular the travel restrictions many countries have in place, including the 14-day quarantine policy for travellers entering the UK.

“We know that as the Covid-19 crisis subsides, air travel will be a vital enabler of the UK’s economic recovery. Therefore, we are calling for a multi-layered approach of carefully targeted public health and screening measures, which will allow for a successful and safe restart of international air travel for passengers and businesses. We are planning to announce more destination restart dates in the next two weeks for the month of August.”

The operations will be carried out from Terminal 2 of London Heathrow Airport. It will resume its services from Terminal 3 once the terminal reopens, as it was closed due to reduced demand.

In order to safeguard the health and safety of its staff and passengers, Virgin Atlantic has implemented different safety measures such as increased cleaning practices at check-in, boarding gates and onboard.

Passengers and staff will have to adhere to social distancing rules and must wear masks.

The airline will supply a personal health pack that will include medical grade face masks, surface wipes and hand gel.

The passengers will be provided with simplified food onboard to reduce the contact.

Last month, Heathrow Airport started trialling thermal screening technology to check the temperatures of arriving passengers.

Virgin Atlantic decided to cut 3,150 jobs across all functions to help emerge from the coronavirus crisis.




IATA states passenger demand in April decreased by 94.3%

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) stated that global passenger demand in April decreased by 94.3% compared to April last year.

The decrease was attributed to the travel restrictions due to Covid-19, which shut down the international and domestic travel.

This is reported to be the largest rate of decrease in passenger traffic since 1990.

However, the flight totals increased by 30% between 21 April and 27 May.

This increase is said to be the first step of aviation beginning to return back to normal, provided that the pandemic doesn’t reoccur now.

IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said: “April was a disaster for aviation as air travel almost entirely stopped. But April may also represent the nadir of the crisis. Flight numbers are increasing.

“Countries are beginning to lift mobility restrictions. And business confidence is showing improvement in key markets such as China, Germany, and the US. These are positive signs as we start to rebuild the industry from a stand-still. The initial green shoots will take time, possibly years, to mature.”

In the international market, international passenger demand decreased by 98.4% compared to April last year. This is a decrease of 58.1% compared to March.

IATA added that the international capacity decreased by 95.1%, while the load factor reduced to 27.5%.

Domestic traffic in April decreased by 86.9%, with the largest decreases seen in Australia with 96.8%, Brazil with 93.1% and the US with 95.7%.

Previously, IATA stated that the global passenger demand for February decreased by 14.1% compared to February last year.