With a robust national vaccination rollout underway, there is guarded optimism in the aviation industry that people are returning to the skies. Enplanement data and TSA throughput numbers are growing each month and many routes are coming back from pandemic-related cancellations. Drilling down into the numbers, we see that it is the leisure traveler who is driving the growth curve, while the business traveler is still slow to return to flying. The distinction between the leisure and business traveler is critical, as the business market represents significant revenue for airlines and airports alike. Based on generational trends, it is only a matter of time before a full recovery is upon us.
Restating the obvious, 2020 was a year of epic disruption. The pandemic affected all aspects of global life, and at one point, the aviation industry was down 95% in ridership. Necessity being the mother of invention, strategic planning and market innovation was required by both the industry and the federal government to stave off the collapse of the aviation sector.
Assuaging safety fears was a critical driver for the general passenger to return to flying. Available reputable data demonstrated that following proper CDC protocols lessened the risk of infection. Looking to expand upon facility safety measures (i.e. masks, social distancing, and hygiene), the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID) partnered with Mercy Care and Mead & Hunt to roll out a pre-secure health screening process that provided discrete and professional processing for passengers. The screening takes less than a minute and provides secondary guidance if needed. Months after implementation, CID is still one of the few airports with this amenity. The privacy partitions used are easily demountable and can be adjusted/deployed to meet current medical conditions. Public surveys have overwhelmingly been positive and the airport’s brand identity as a critical regional infrastructure provider has grown significantly.
The FAA initially was cautious to support CID’s innovative idea. Ultimately, they decided to support the health screening process and are monitoring it as a case study for future guidance. The overall success at CID has proven that it will take a collection of measures rooted in transparency and creative thinking to return aviation to pre-pandemic levels.