When you were a kid did you ever do the windmill run down a steep hill? The one where you ran as fast as you could, your arms flailing in a fast rotation, more out of control than in control. Sometimes a face plant was the inevitable outcome. Then tears. Or a bruised ego.
In some parts of the globe this could be a metaphor for the air transport industry. The dash of travellers back to airports and flights is astonishing. Aircraft are returning to the air as fast as they can. Destinations are popping back up on network maps like mushrooms after a night in the hothouse.
However, the rush to capture this business has brought the ‘windmill run’ effect. Some cannot cope, and the finger is being pointed at airlines, airports, handlers and security providers. Delays, cancellations and queuing horror stories in many European countries, the UK, USA and Australia, are rife; some airports – such as Amsterdam Schiphol – have imposed capacity caps to try and deal with the chaos. It is a sorry sight, and many who are returning to the air after foregoing travel during the pandemic are having a pitiful experience.
But the pain is not universal and should not be long-lived. IATA director general Willie Walsh told a press conference at the recent 78th IATA Annual General Meeting in Doha that he has taken 58 flights in the past few months and has not encountered a single delay because of airport-related troubles.
His view, also expressed at the IATA Ground Handling Conference in Paris in May, is that “these are temporary problems, and we can overcome them. They are faced every year as we come into the peak season… It is a much nicer challenge than when we were ramping down,” he said.
While that is true, there are concerns that recruitment and retention for the aviation services industry will be a systemic problem in the coming years. Several IGHC panels mused on how to attract younger generations to an industry that does not hold the appeal it once did. The answer is not clear.
Another worry is expressed in the title of a webinar held by financial giant HSBC recently: The crisis in ground handling – can aviation’s summer boom survive? Admittedly, this event was focused on Europe, but the sentiment applies globally. Nobody wants the recovery, and especially the first summer since 2019 where traffic is bountiful, to be derailed.
After taking flights and trains to Norway, Paris, Geneva, Malaga and Doha in recent weeks, I can report that traffic is flooding back. Some players are not coping very well; others have planned thoroughly. This summer will bring strong revenues in many markets. IATA is predicting that despite the headwinds of fuel price rises, climbing inflation and the war in Ukraine, the industry will reduce its forecast loss in 2022 and a return to profit is “on the horizon” in 2023.
Everybody is hoping that 2022 will be the year when recovery from the pandemic truly establishes itself. The signs are good when it comes to traffic. But can the industry avoid a face plant when it comes to managing this boom successfully? That is an open question.
The ARGS team will review the summer season at the Reunion event organised by EVA Media International. Taking place from 5-7 September in Athens, it will feature the Airline Ground Services Global Networking Summit 2022, held in association with the Airport Services Association. We look forward to seeing you there.
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