Where Do We Go From Here?

Paul Bowers

While we have never before experienced a COVID-19 pandemic, and its related health and economic consequences, we can draw on previous disruptors to guess what happens in the future of aviation—and don’t let anyone tell you that it’s anything more than an educated GUESS

This is what we do know to date (in mid-April as we go to press): Airlines are flying planes with few passengers, and they’re cutting flights and expenses accordingly. As a result, airports also have few passengers and are losing huge revenues in fees. Washington passed the CARES Act, pumping $10 billion into airports.

Here is what we can expect to happen short-term: Airlines will adjust flights, destination cities and purchases to match current loads rather than what they expect to see in 12 months. Business and leisure travel will be tepid. Airports, in turn, will try to match services to current passenger traffic by reducing expenses as they’re able.  

Sobering, yes? Most definitely. So, here’s my call to action: Now’s the time to prepare for the future by continuing projects already in progress or starting new projects with AIP or CARES Act monies. Better days are ahead. In time, we will get back to, and ultimately exceed, 2019 volume. And we’ll need airport infrastructure ready to serve it. 

Pushing ahead with projects during a downturn is not easy. But if history has taught us one lesson, it’s that the trajectory of air travel is not a flat line. Over time, it’s only gone in one direction, up! After 9/11 and following the Great Recession of 2008, there were many examples of airports that kept programs in place to increase capacity. Did they regret their decisions five years later? Not anyone I’ve talked to. There were also airports that postponed or cancelled programs to increase capacity, and many were never able to build fast enough to catch up.

As we navigate the latest, toughest, challenge airports have seen in a while, it’s important to resist the temptation or pressure to respond with knee-jerk reactions. It takes great leadership, compassion, intelligence and resolve to maintain a long-term outlook by continuing to build and improve our airports for the future.

As always, thanks for reading.


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