The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the aviation industry to its knees as national borders have been closed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has resulted in the grounding of thousands of aircraft globally. Airlines not already bankrupt are tottering on the brink.
In relation to this, the ASM Science & Technology Development Industry Discipline Group (ASM STDI) in collaboration with Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) organised a webinar to highlight the issue of the aviation industry in Malaysia.
Emerita Professor Dato’ Seri Dr Mazlan Othman FASc (chair of the ASM STDI Discipline Group) said it is evident that the global airline industry has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The strain on the previously fundamental industry has affected a significant portion of the world economy. Air travel is the key facilitator of the tourism industry which contributes 10% to the global GDP and affects millions of jobs. Travel restrictions and closing off borders were measures taken to prevent the spread of the pandemic but with vaccines introduced, the question arises, when can we start travelling again?
Dr Raslan Ahmad FASc (Vice President of MIGHT) who moderated the session emphasised that the aviation sector is one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic. This is deemed the largest shock the industry ever saw since the Second World War. Previously, the adverse impact of the 9/11 attacks and the 2007-2008 global financial crisis were thought to be dramatic; neither compare to the estimated scale of the current situation facing the global aviation industry.
Most experts in the aviation industry agree that the prospective recovery may take more than three years to reach the pre-crisis traffic levels, though we may not see pre-COVID-19 traffic volumes again before the end of 2021. In his keynote address, Dr Bicky Bhangu (President of South East Asia, Pacific and South Korea at Rolls-Royce Asia) highlighted that in Asia, air travel is affected by the increasing number of cases pushing back on when air travel may commence again. In response, governments have provided support to local carriers to avoid bankruptcy.
Mr Mohsin Aziz mentioned that safety and the perception of safety are crucial for the aviation industry to flourish again. People are eager to travel but the responsibility is on the government to facilitate this process to ensure it is safe to travel again. Quarantining is one method of containing the spread of the virus.
Universal standards of testing would be the first step in the push for the airline industry’s recovery. A shared standard could increase the perception of safety and serve as the catalyst for recovery.AirAsia CEO, Mr Riad Asmat, mentioned that the pandemic provided airlines with opportunities to re-evaluate and reinvent. With changes to air travel, AirAsia has adapted swiftly to ensure protocols were met and employees were retained. One such method is by going contactless through digitisation of the system and procedures from beginning to the end. These include processes such as registration and boarding to comply with physical distancing measures.
Mr Salahuddin (General Manager of Aviation Marketing and Development, Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad) echoed the same view. He shares that Malaysia Airport Holdings are preparing for the recovery phase with plans to intensify its collaboration with local and foreign carriers. This effort is to resuscitate domestic and international air travel. In addition, Malaysia Airport Holdings would also cooperate with Federal and State tourism bodies. Although passenger aircrafts were impacted, Mr Salahuddin saw the presence of a silver lining; air cargo has benefited from the capacity crunch, seeing an increase in yield and revenue.
Moving forward, collaboration from all parties is crucial for recovery. Without preparation and the right programmes applicable for all countries, recovery would be difficult to achieve. Dato’ Sri Azharuddin Abdul Rahman (chairman of Layang-Layang Flying Academy Sdn Bhd) emphasised the need for the right management programmes to prevent the spread of airborne diseases. Accomplishing this feat necessitates a collective effort from all stakeholders as well as strong political will in the implementation and execution stages.
An interesting point highlighted by the panellist is the digital passport introduced by the Government. This had previously been utilised when yellow fever and typhoid were rampant. By expanding it to include an individual’s entire medical history, it may allow for integration with World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) by utilising data to ensure public safety. However, this then requires measures to ensure the data is protected.