It was the Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny the Elder who said the only certainty is that nothing is certain. He would never know how many times he’d be quoted over the centuries, and it’s a truth we are grappling with right now as we try to plan our way out of the pandemic.
With the political picture shifting weekly, and travel corridors opening and closing at short notice, these are tricky times. But it has united the industry in a way I’ve never seen before, to coordinate our efforts to get the country flying again as soon as we’re allowed, as safely as we know how.
We are planning operationally for 75% of 2019 traffic this summer. It’s by no means certain that traffic will reach those levels, but we do know that if – and when – the industry gets the green light, the airlines will be up and running very quickly indeed and we have always said that airspace won’t be a constraint on the restart. But we don’t know which routes may open up, whether there will be a surge in bookings for the May half-term, whether there may be regional differences if devolved governments open routes at different times…
And of course people might not feel confident about travelling, they may feel the whole situation is too volatile and not want to run the risk of finding themselves on the red list halfway through their holiday. Or they may be so fed up they just want to get on a plane and go… assuming they don’t have to have a vaccination certificate.
We have written to our airline and airport customers, asking them some questions and seeking bilaterals so that we can understand their plans and build them into ours.
If airline routes and schedules are not dissimilar to 2019 we can handle 75% with current social distancing measures in place in our ops rooms. We are now running simulations at both of our centres at Prestwick and Swanwick to restore confidence for our controllers. Those will be complete in May so I’m confident we will be ready to respond when the moment comes.
Three draft scenarios were brought to the industry-wide Ops Directors Liaison Group (ODLG) last week on potential emerging traffic patterns through the summer.
Two of these consider a similar, cautious return of traffic but with different levels of infection control in place for passengers – one requiring face masks and social distancing still to be in place, the other one with social distancing removed, highlighting the likely impact on airports.
These scenarios consider the return of limited shorthaul routes in June, with more in July alongside some longhaul routes, with the rest of the market by October. The third scenario assumes a faster restart, starting with around 30% shorthaul in May growing through June with the addition of some longhaul routes, and the rest of the market by August.
These scenarios have now been handed over to two working groups, on Consumer Experience & Network Resilience and Safety & Security, to identify any potential challenges in the network before they occur so we can do our best to mitigate any risks. And of course we are also staying close to the Network Manager in Eurocontrol to stay tied in with the wider European picture.
At this stage, it’s all about the art of the possible, rather than the probable. We’ll know more next month after the Global Travel Taskforce reports back to the PM, but May 17 is the earliest date we can start up... assuming there is no resurgence in the virus and the Government sticks with its current timetable.
I may be writing a completely different blog in a month’s time. But for now, and based on the best information and forecasting we have, I’m confident that we’ll be ready.
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