COVID-19 is the time for the route development industry to step up, not step back

The situation with the COVID-19 coronavirus is currently very fluid and unpredictable. Around the globe, governments are banning large public gatherings, the 2020 Olympic Games are under threat, and stock markets are in freefall.

Few industries will feel the impact more keenly than aviation. IATA has predicted that worldwide passenger revenues will drop between $63 billion and $113 billion.

Chinese carriers have obviously taken a hit, but they’re not alone; UK regional Flybe blamed its demise on the outbreak, while Korean Air president Woo Kee-hong has warned that the disruption could threaten its survival. Lufthansa has halved its total flights as a result of the virus and airlines everywhere are making daily schedule adjustments.

Yet Lufthansa’s director network planning for Africa and Middle East, Rupert Kraus, told our sister consultancy ASM that it would be “a big mistake to stop work on route development” throughout the crisis.

For airlines, there’s little worse for profitability than keeping metal on the ground, and they’re working round the clock to find opportunities to redeploy equipment.

Can airports realistically help? Amsterdam Schiphol route development director Wilco Sweijen believes the industry needs to be in contact now, even if that’s just for airports to let carriers know they’re available to support however they can.

Nigel Mayes, ASM’s SVP for consulting, agrees.

“We’re certainly being told by a lot of the airlines that route development won’t stop,” says Mayes.

“Airlines have been even more anxious to find ways that their partners and stakeholders can support them, both in terms of filling seats on the existing network and how they can build their networks when the traffic comes back.

“There are moments when you need to reach out to the marketplace. And you’ve got to make sure that you’re one of the first to be doing that.”

The network development industry is about building relationships which create effective partnerships and successful networks. Those relationships can help the entire industry get through this crisis. So, pick up the phone or drop someone an email. Show solidarity and make sure your partners know you’re there to support them.

Aviation always bounces back, and those who manage the downturn together will be the best placed to grow when the passengers come back.

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