The Covid-19 health crisis is the biggest disruption in the history of aviation.
The virus has infected more than seven million people worldwide, causing over 400,000 deaths, and brought air travel to a standstill as governments ordered lockdowns impacting billions of people.
The impact on the industry has been tremendous. According to OAG Schedule Analyser, passenger demand in April and May plummeted by, respectively, about 65% and almost 70% compared to the previous year.
As more countries begin easing their lockdowns and reopening borders, the main challenge for the air industry will be persuading people to trust that it is safe to fly.
In an April survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 40% of would-be travellers from the UK, US, Australia, Germany and India said they would wait six months after the virus was under control before flying again.
One thing is certain: flying is going to be very different.
The new normal in air travel
Just as airport security changed after 9/11, air passengers will face a similar wave of new procedures to help them stay healthy and safe during their journey.
Aviation marketing consultancy Simpliflying says flying will become a highly sanitised experience and many of the changes being rolled out will become the norm.
A number of new technologies are already on trial around the world to offer a touchless experience, provide health screening and monitor flows to ensure social distancing in crowded airports.
Abu Dhabi is testing contactless check-in kiosks that can scan travellers for basic health and select them for further screening should they appear to show symptoms of the virus.
Passengers may have to go through thermal scanners and even disinfection tunnels, like the ones on trial at Hong Kong airport.
Social distancing at check-in and boarding areas will become essential, along with checks to ensure passengers are wearing masks, which will be compulsory on board the aircraft.
Thermal scanners will be deployed throughout the airport, while counters will be screened off to protect staff.
Simpliflying estimates that over 70 different areas in the passenger journey will either change or will be introduced from scratch to restore confidence in flying after Covid-19.
All these measures will require a significant overhaul of current airport procedures, creating daunting planning challenges for airport operators.
The upturn in activity and the return to economic growth will only be possible if airports find the perfect balance, whilst implementing the new health and social distancing rules, which will inevitably cut
A long-standing experience
Thanks to its long-standing experience in the air mobility industry and in securing airports such as Paris-Charles de Gaulle in France, JFK in New York and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Thales is aware these new procedures will need to be supported by first-class technological solutions.
The Thales AiRISE suite offers a modular approach that can be implemented as an integrated global system or standalone solutions to optimise passenger flows, as well as ensure health screenings and security.
Through its state-of-the-art biometric capabilities, Thales’s Fly to Gate allows a fully contactless passenger operation from check-in to boarding, cutting the time passengers spend in queues at each step of the travel process.
Thales InFlow enables social distancing procedures in certain areas of the airport by only allowing access to passengers according to their departure slot. For example, the boarding pass reader will not give clearance to enter the queue for the security checkpoint if the flight has a red light.
To ensure proper social distancing, passengers receive small sanitisable tags after thermal screening. The devices interact with all the other tags in the airport – both on passengers and staff – beeping every time two tags interact for more than 30 seconds at a distance of one metre or less. The passenger is notified of being too close to someone else and reminded of the need to keep a distance.
Temperature checks, first introduced during the SARS outbreak in 2003, will be one of the most immediate and long-lasting countermeasures against Covid-19.
The cameras integrated in SafeLand, Thales’s safety and security management solution, raise alarms if passengers or staff are found to have a temperature that is above the threshold.
The system enables the quick investigation of positive and suspected cases via health questionnaires, with mobile apps that can act as a deterrent for people to travel if they are unsure of their health or recent contacts.
Finally, airport operators can avoid critical situations caused by human behaviour with Thales’s SafeLand Pax Protector, which is able to detect abnormal conditions and raise geo-located alarms that help security officers and staff intervene quickly to restore safe conditions.
In the current crisis, Thales’s multi-layered approach is key to supporting airport safety, reassuring passengers to travel again and enabling a quicker recovery for the air transport industry.