Can we be grateful for disaster?
Who are we?
Bluntly, the questions we have in this current state we are in, are multiple. More often they are with the aching on-going motions of uncertainty unanswered. As one rule of life we know: what does not kill you makes you stronger. Or does it really? With immense grief, I say that in these times some of us lost the battle and did not reach the other ‘side’ of the barrier: the safe side of becoming stronger. But were they really lost? The increased common consciousness nowadays makes it that they are not forgotten.
It is not only my belief that we gradually grow into a common consciousness but proven by history, literature, and aviation alike. We started out with a gigantic dream of conquering the skies and succeeded by lifting off a couple of dozen feet from the ground. We grew wings, not only in the attachment of a structure heavier than air but also within our hearts. Mankind flying – although not purely biologically achievable – and being part of the skies with the whole wide world around us, contributed to a stronger feeling of belonging within our core of values.
Crumbling into the initial confusion
In the aftermath of the shock we began facing as of March 2019, a lot of questions such as the following arose: Are we able to recover from this? How will things change? How will this impact the way we do business and what will this mean for our industry? How will we manage, and can we in the first place? Are we resilient enough? Will we adapt? And the list of tumults goes on …
We used to peak at around 35 000 flights per day in the European airspace. Our air traffic management (ATM) system was facing a stretch. Our air traffic controllers (ATCO’s) were being forced to disturb the normal operations of airlines by imposing delays due to air traffic service (ATS) capacity. Pilots and airplanes were being put in holding patterns before the safe landings at the destination airport which seldom comes without distress.
Everyone and everything seemed to be rushing at a fast pace with an easily predictive traffic increase. The feeling of the actors in the whole industry, from passengers to operators, was that all the players were in for the gain and with the eyes constantly on the prize: the destination.
When the buzz word ‘pandemic’ kicked in, everything came to a fast stop. Airline flights, once abundant and stretched to full capacity and occupancy, experienced cuts up to 70 to 90 percent with some airlines barely even flying at all. We can legitimately say aviation was in shock, just like the rest of the world.
From crosswind to a gentle touchdown
As we deepened into the unknown with the virus in our garden, flights were even scarcer, restrictions were more and more rigid and the willingness of passengers to fly was dropping because of health concerns. This is all getting frightening. But what do we do? I believe there is a silver lining in everything. The hard thing sometimes is to identify it and follow through with it.
Before the pandemic times, there was a constant stream of valid complaints concerning the overstretching of our skies, crowded areas, delays, ATC capacity, and airport parking spots. If you add weather delays on top of all the full and over-the-limit capacity movements, you get an output of frustrated players in the aviation industry, both on the operator as the customer side.
A delay of between two to four hours on a three-hour flight on a basis of one out of three flights makes no one happy. Now, having one available flight – or even fewer – out of previously three options tipped the balance of frustration on the opposite side, but probably with the same intensity. What is different now? The opportunity.
There is the opportunity to address the solutions of expanding our airspace capacity without impacting the airliners with imposed delays, or worse, creating animosity between airliners because of the feeling of preference for one airline or another.
If the traffic now is low and there are fewer aircraft in the air, why won’t we push to put into action the ‘drawer’ solutions we kept waiting until we had the time and availability to implement? Of course, we need to take care of many other pressing issues in parallel, but I am sure that we will surely recover, and aircraft will start populating the skies in big numbers again.
We can say that we were not prepared to receive the shock of the current pandemic, but what I believe we can learn during our built-up resiliency is that we will be ready to deliver once the lights at the beginning and at the end of the runway will be seen by the same and even more numbers of pilots every day.
Working in the air traffic industry let me see the impact of Covid-19 from up close. This blog post is a result of this and is also my two cents about the industry. My main message: we have to stay optimistic!
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