Reconnecting the world

Reconnecting the world

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It was at the turn of the 20th century, flying took off from being a fantasy to becoming a reality. Incredibly, it is now part of everyday life. But sadly, air travel is currently in a holding pattern.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has aviation hanging on the ropes. Airlines in the Middle East could lose $24 billion of passenger revenue, and their passenger numbers are expected to fall by 51 percent this year, according to the International Air Transport Association.

As the world comes to grips with the pandemic’s acute health and socio-economic impacts, we face a new reality of uncertainty.

Many of us are staying home, wondering when we will return to our workplaces, visit our loved ones and reunite with our friends, especially for those 30 million expatriates in the region who are a flight away from home.

More than 90 percent of the world’s population currently live in countries with COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Approximately 3 billion people reside in countries with borders completely closed to foreign visitors, making passenger flights unsustainable to continue as they once did.

It is more than the feeling of an adrenaline rush while booking a flight that we miss — it is what aviation contributes to everyday society and how special it is to each one of us.

Naturally, as humans, we are curious and explorers. Aviation brings humanity closer together, connects countries and unites cultures, broadening our minds and experiences.

50 years ago, Airbus began engineering machines that took to the skies, feeding into that human appetite for exploring new destinations and facilitating trade, transporting vital goods and services around the world.

Just before COVID-19, commercial aviation contributed 3.6 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and supported 2.4 million jobs and $130 billion in GDP in the Middle East alone. At the crossroads of east and west, the Middle East is at the heart of a pivotal air travel market. In 2019, over 100 million passengers traveled through the region that hosts some of the world’s most renowned international airlines, fostering important trade flows and exports manufacturing capabilities as part of the global aerospace supply chain. 

When you take your next flight, the person in your row could be traveling to a business conference to secure a new trade deal. The family sat nearby could be travelling to discover a new destination. In the cargo hold could be online shopping purchases or essential medical supplies and humanitarian aid destined to provide relief to people in need.

Through the turbulence caused by COVID-19, aircraft continue to fly today, serving nations around the world as the only transport capable of delivering essential time-sensitive airfreight. 

Additionally, aviation leaves a vast ecosystem in its wake comprised of suppliers, airlines, airports, and ancillary services worldwide that also stimulates the tourism and hospitality industries. Collectively, this ecosystem has successfully built what is today the safest way to travel.

Understandably, after months of staying home and living under lockdown measures, we anticipate an initial reluctance to travel and a heightened sense of awareness around hygiene for tomorrow’s air passenger. People may question whether their tray tables are clean, if it is safe to flick through the inflight magazine or if they are putting their health at risk by simply taking to the skies.

This is why it is more important than ever to keep consumer trust for our industry to soar once again to pre-crisis levels.

Throughout history, the aviation industry places the health, safety and security of its passengers and staff as its highest priority. At Airbus, this remains unchanged.

Through designing and engineering state-of-the-art passenger aircraft, we have made it a priority to safeguard every person who uses our products and services. Whether flying in comfort onboard our aircraft, taking the controls of an A380, or providing maintenance and repair services to fleets on the ground, we apply robust end-to-end layers of safety at every step.

With social distancing being enforced on the ground, we expect a human behavioral shift in the skies. Passengers have no reason to be nervous next time they step onboard. Cabin air quality is meticulously controlled, providing safe and ideal conditions. The air inside an aircraft cabin is comparable to a sterile hospital environment. Renewed air circulates in the cabin every 2-3 minutes through highly efficient HEPA filters that remove up to 99.95 percent of microbes, viral and bacterial particles from the air, including COVID-19. 

Moving forward, we believe there needs to be a fundamental focus on sanitisation throughout the entire passenger journey. Sanitary protection will become a key cornerstone of air travel alongside safety, security and the environment to which we have all become accustomed.

Passengers should be declared safe to travel before they set foot onboard the aircraft. Additionally, it is essential cabins are thoroughly disinfected, clearing any invisible threat.

We have already seen passenger screening measures and the use of innovative technology to enhance cleaning processes at airports in the UAE. Some airlines have adopted using personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect crews, and in a concerted effort with airlines, airports, and the authorities, we are doing everything possible to reassure people who rely on air travel.

People need to start moving again, and we will.

Overcoming previous incidents and downturns, our industry has proven its resilience and ability to return stronger in a professional, innovative, and globally coordinated way.

Ultimately, we have a clear responsibility to preserve the human connection. Collectively as an industry, we are playing our role in supporting the economic recovery.

We owe it to the world to reconnect countries and restore important trade flows and passenger journeys that bring economic prosperity and joy to millions of people’s hearts.

It is our duty to make it fly again, and we will.

• Mikail Houari is president Africa and Middle East for Airbus.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view