Author: Kevin Caron, Vice-President Global Assessment and Training, Airports Council International World
Living with COVID-19 and airport restart

Air connectivity is essential to enable economic recovery.

As countries around the world open back up for international travel, we all recognise that we need effective strategies to restart our industry while managing our return to growth.

Therefore, adequate planning is essential in preparation for the early days and weeks of the restart of passenger flights, including constant attention to business continuity planning. This is equally true for the subsequent phases as operations build up.

Relationships with air carriers at an airport will be critical, as their intentions may change rapidly. Liaison with contractors, unions, the air navigation service provider (ANSP) aircraft operators, and ground handling service providers will also be necessary, as will issues of procurement of supplies while the COVID-19 crisis continues. Slot-controlled airports should ensure capacity analysis and capacity declaration are conducted regularly, maintained current, and communicated.

When planning to restart or increase the aircraft movements and passenger operations significantly at the airport, it will be essential to ensure adequate operational readiness and testing of airport infrastructure and systems that may have been shut down or have undergone partial, restricted, or no use for a prolonged period.

To adequately prepare for and manage this critical phase, airport operators should go through a thorough operational readiness assessment, similar to the process conducted when opening a new terminal, in particular for all elements of the airport system that have not been engaged in standard operations for a prolonged period. This process should be conducted as part of the overall ramp-up and restart plan that the airport operator should establish.

Many methodologies exist to conduct this operational readiness testing, including ACI’s Airport Excellence (APEX) in the operational safety peer review program. In practical terms, there are often two or three primary stages to this process, as described in the table below. It is important to note that this process may have to be undertaken numerous times as the procedures and operating modes related to the evolving health situation is likely to evolve continuously.

The operational readiness assessment should be conducted on both infrastructures and systems. Systems include hold baggage sortation system, CUTE sets at check-in counters and gates, apron surfaces, runway lighting systems, potable water access points, etc.) that have not undergone normal operations for some time as well as on critical operational processes (e.g., rescue and firefighting (RFF), wildlife management, worksite safety, etc.). All assets (infrastructure and systems) and process owners should establish the testing checklists and participate in the field evaluation.

Given the number of stakeholders operating at airports, the airport operators must coordinate the overall operational readiness testing processes to have a complete picture of the airport system before restart. A comprehensive asset and process readiness dashboard should be maintained and updated by the airport operator following each phase of ramp-down and ramp-up.

An equally important part of the operational readiness process will be to ensure that all operational staff is introduced back into the daily operations in such a way as to be fully ready to fulfil their tasks safely and according to established procedures or any new requirements that may have been developed. Therefore, the airport operator should have a central role in consolidating a comprehensive understanding of its own staff's level of preparedness and competency and all key stakeholders operating at the airport (ATC, ground handling, RFF, security, etc.).

As the industry begins this new era of living with COVID-19, all members of the aviation ecosystem are mapping out how they will return to a growth in operations while identifying and managing risks with planning and stakeholder communications. ACI will continue working with its global partners to explore these and many other topics to seek common ground and solutions. Working collaboratively will ensure these new procedures will work for the traveling public and the aviation community at large.

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