Back in May we did some analysis on the COVID-related measures likely to be put in place during air travel. We modelled some recovery scenarios across the terminal and the gate as traffic started to pick up following “lockdown” across Europe. Now that 6 months have passed and we have a clearer picture of what form the recovery is taking, we’ve taken a look back at our modelling to see if the analysis still holds.
At the time, there were various traffic recovery scenarios (no-one was brave enough to call them forecasts!) from different sources, ranging from very pessimistic to only a little pessimistic. Traffic volumes aside, there were a few key questions which needed answering, such as:
1) Would air travel be safe from a medical and disease transmission point of view?
2) Could airport terminals accommodate the new measures put in place for screening and distancing?
3) Would it be possible to segregate both passengers and aircraft to accommodate social distancing at pinch points such as boarding gates?
EASA and the ECDC helpfully addressed point 1, while our simulations tried to put numbers and insight behind point 2 and point 3. What the benefit of 6 months of post-lockdown travel has given us is the insight into knowing which of the scenarios we modelled are now most likely over the next 6 months. Those of us who may have been wishing for a better (read: less worse) coordinated approach are now falling more in line with the low end forecasts and predicting that a traffic volume of around 50% is likely for the next 5-6 months at least.
So what can we learn from our original modelling?
In terms of the airport terminal, the security process analysis modelled a scenario with 40% of 2019 passenger levels. It showed that social distancing, screening and reduced instances of searching rejected bags by hand (thereby feeding them back into the queue) were all able to be accommodated with minimal impact on wait times. At a 60% traffic level, it was found that restricting hand searching of bags had a large impact on queuing times and so alternative means to minimising hand searches, in line with ACI’s objective to minimise queues should be preferred, such as modern CT scanners.
When it comes to the airfield operations we looked at the same traffic recovery scenarios and operations when applying the same health and safety protocols. We looked into how the two metre social distancing required within boarding terminal areas may result in reduced availability of boarding gates, which can then have a direct impact on airfield capacity and operations. During our testing, the traffic simulated for the 40% recovery scenario was successfully handled with no impact on stand capacity, even with increased turn-around times. When moving towards a 60% traffic level a small amount of remote stands were required for our “typical” airport, more so when turn around times were increased. Given the logistical challenges that remote stands present in terms of maintaining social distancing, this was something which again is mitigatable but which would require alternative solutions such as reconfiguring terminal layouts.
Trying to find the positives in any of this, we can see that with a second wave of infection hitting Europe over the winter, air travel is still likely to be able to continue meeting demands for increased health and safety protocols, mainly due to lack of traffic and passengers. This does mean that even with an infectious disease circulating, air travel can remain a safe and viable form of transport. Looking for more positives we can suggest that were coordinated testing protocols agreed across nations – or better still, a vaccine found – the current aviation protocols could remain in place for an extended period of time to provide an additional safety buffer or overlap in order to increase traveller confidence as traffic continues to grow.