According to Mehmet Bozdemir, Operations Deputy General Manager at major Turkish ground handler Havaş, a recovery to 2019 business figures should be achieved in 2023. “Regarding the latest situation in Turkey and the countries that have flight routes to Turkey; the vaccine is widely available for the travellers of summer 2021,” he says.
“There are enough testing facilities for passengers, relatively good passenger confidence and only some of the travellers are still reluctant to fly. Airlines have started to re-invest and re-hire by demand returns,” explains Bozdemir. “Some hauls have been re-launched quicker than others. (eg Qatar, Ukraine, and Poland). Since the beginning of 2020, average flights have remained 40% lower than the traffic figures in 2019. The second half of 2021 is expected to remain 20% lower than the figures in 2019. In 2022 and 2023, the figures are expected to be 10% lower and 90+% higher than the figures in 2019, respectively.”
“Although the figures have showed a slight recovery in the market, the remainder of 2021 still remains not so promising for aviation stakeholders, since most of the airlines and service providers still fall far behind the figures in 2019; and the challenge regarding the uncertainty due to the travel restrictions, daily changing travel requirements of the countries, etc,” he states. “As there is no travelling standard regarding the pandemic in the sector to stimulate more passenger demand, the current recovery is quite fragile.”
Havaş, which operates at 28 airports in Turkey as well as at Riga Airport in Latvia, adapted and changed its operations in response to the pandemic-induced crisis. “During the pandemic, we implemented all new regulations for health and safety of our employees as well as our passengers by adapting our operations to new health and safety standards,” says Bozdemir. “We have maintained our operations by rigorously implementing all the Covid-19 measures determined by international aviation authorities and official authorities in terms of health and safety. We have been using PPE according to the roles of our employees in different branches of business since the first period of pandemic, as well as implementing social distancing regulations, periodical disinfection processes in our offices, stations and warehouse buildings, equipment disinfections, regulating the air conditioning systems, and fever measurements.”
“Moreover, our airline partnerships have engaged in cargo transportation operations (cabin in cargo) in passenger flights due to decreased air traffic and travel restrictions during the pandemic. We have also adapted business to the new conditions in a very short time by developing this type of services for our cargo operations. Our warehouse activities also gained strong momentum. We continue to safely meet the demands of air cargo traffic at high standards, with the strong cargo demand during the pandemic we have also invested in warehouse facilities and equipment,” says Bozdemir.
“We were able to use our invested equipment effectively during the pandemic particularly in perishable cargo operations such as vaccines, medicines and foods. We have special freezer units that can cool cargo down to minus 18 degrees in our warehouses. Our facility also includes special areas with capacities of simultaneously working 18 RKN or 9 RKN and 3 RAP containers to be able to store and preserve containers that contain active freezers to transport vaccines. Furthermore, we can preserve the cooling function for the vaccines for longer periods with our external power units. We have carried out our paperless operation project in this period to speed up our operations and support health and safety. The project enables our dispatchers to manage the operational processes from their tablets with a faster data flow. In line with our digital transformation road map, which was initiated before the pandemic and has picked up the pace afterwards, we started using many new applications such as APPron, our in-house communication platforms, IATA’s Timatic Mobile app that we use during our operations, and DGAutoCheck system.”
Covid protection measures have become part of the routine for all aviation stakeholders. “Besides social distancing requirements, disinfection and PPE use at passenger contact points, the digitalisation pacing up in airport operations provided significant advantage during this period in terms of health and safety,” says Bozdemir. “As the airport operations constitute a chain process, it is important that the stakeholders work collectively and put into operation the latest technologies in compliance with the intersecting operational processes. In this regard, we always communicate with our airline partners and operate in a structure to support each other through innovation.”
“We increased the use of mobile technologies and online procedures for ground handling operations to become more digitalised, decrease physical contact with passengers; hence, improve the safety of our operations. At Havaş, we developed a digitalisation road map before the pandemic, and during this period, we have accelerated the process together with our stakeholders,” says Bozdemir.
“As a subsidiary of TAV Group, a member of Groupe ADP, we have the opportunity to carry out an all-purpose assessment in terms of adaptation to the new systems,” he explains. “We work in synergy to adapt the new approaches implemented by TAV to offer uninterrupted travel experience at the airports operated worldwide to our processes. Moreover, solutions developed by TAV Technologies, another subsidiary of the group, specific to the aviation sector in line with the latest trends also enable us to adapt new technologies to the handling processes. Thus, we increase our operational efficiency in our processes through digitalisation while also protecting our employees and passengers.”
Improving efficiency is always important in any process and has become even more vital. “Airlines are focused on reducing operational costs by optimizing all possible services,” says Bozdemir. “For instance, they are looking for ways to outsource and delegate their traditional ticketing services to ground handlers. The increasing demands of the customer airlines have led our ticketing capacity at the airports to grow. We anticipate that low-cost carriers, in particular will prefer the practice more. Outsourcing some local activities by airlines, and new service requirements of the carriers, such as disinfection and cabin loading operations, have been various opportunities brought by the pandemic.”
The pandemic has placed incredible strains across the aviation eco-system, but experience still counts. “We have a deep know-how and experience in ground handling operations. Nevertheless, we place utmost significance to contribute to the development of the sector while also transferring new approaches to our services to increase operational efficiency,” says Bozdemir.
“With our paperless operation at the apron project, we increased the pace of the operational management of our dispatchers at the site,” says Bozdemir. “Moreover, we have investments in training programmes for our employees to get experienced in operation of apron vehicles such as pushback, baggage tractor, and de-icing simulators in a digital environment in the simulation centres we established in our stations at Istanbul and Antalya airports. Our training simulators are the first applications in the ground handling services sector. We transferred the latest technologies in perishable cargo transportation and included reefer trucks to our warehouse fleet.”