Pivot in the Skies

Few industries have been hit as hard by the coronavirus as aviation. Now is the time to develop ideas that will facilitate a rapid return when the crisis is over.

Solitary skies: The coronavirus has been especially rough on the aviation industry. That is clear from the dramatic drop in takeoffs and landings, like here at El Prat International Airport in Barcelona, Spain.  Photo: Kirill Rudenko/ Getty Images

Up, up and away: for a long time the business of Satair, one of the world’s largest suppliers of aircraft parts, moved in a single direction. It was all about growth, nothing but growth, for nearly everyone in the aviation industry. “Our biggest challenge over recent years was how to scale our global business,” says Satair CEO Bart Reijnen. “And that, of course, meant scaling up.” In the spring of 2020, this ability to adapt became crucial. And now might be even more important. But this time the aviation business is taking a different course—at least for the moment.

Few industries have been hit by the coronavirus as hard as aviation. In early April the European air traffic organization Eurocontrol was recording an average of only 3,200 flights a day—a decline of nearly 90 percent over last year. Airlines and airports were suffering, as were engine makers and aircraft manufacturers. They all had to adapt within a period of days. But they also had to ask themselves this question: how can we make ourselves as fit as possible for the day when growth resumes?

Planes parked on runways
“We were gearing up for nearly 250,000 passengers around Easter,” says Pierre Dominique Prümm, a member of the executive board of Fraport AG, the company that operates Frankfurt Airport. “Within just a short period of time we were down to only 5,000 or 7,000 passengers.” Prümm and his colleagues had to close large segments of the terminals, and turn a runway into a parking lot for planes. They had to furlough workers, and shore up liquidity. Instead of concentrating on full capacities, they had to deal with acrylic sneeze guards, distance markings, and disinfectant dispensers.

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