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Recovery depends on a harmonised approach

Recovery depends on a harmonised approach

Finavia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic involves a collaborative, community effort says Ulla Lettijeff, Senior Vice-President, Helsinki Airport

International tourist arrivals in January 2021 were 87% lower than they were in January 2020, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

This has followed the COVID-19 pandemic — the worst crisis in aviation history — resulting in over a year of significant reductions in passenger numbers, cancelled or empty flights, and sustained financial losses for airports and many of their stakeholders. The organisation has called for “stronger coordination on travel protocols between countries to ensure the safe restart of tourism and avoid another year of massive losses for the sector”.

But UNTWO also forecasts a recovery of the industry over the course of this year, with varying rates of recovery depending on a range of factors, including harmonised immunity passports such as the European Union’s planned EU Digital COVID Certificate and vaccination programmes.

For the aviation industry to recover not only quickly, but sustainably, all its stakeholders, from airports to airlines, from passengers to governments, must work together. Finavia has focused a large number of its resources to safe travel and recovery at its airports.

High-quality customer service from the beginning

Finavia’s overall response to COVID-19 was strongly proactive, beginning as early as January 2020 with ramped-up processes including thorough cleaning and disinfection, social distancing, the distribution of hand sanitiser and a comprehensive health communications effort aimed at passengers and the airport staff. We were one of the first organisations in Finland to recommend masks and to implement a mandatory mask policy. We took the pandemic extremely seriously right from the start. And we have done these things not to form some sort of competitive edge, but because they are an absolute must— a baseline upon which to build everything else.

Our success would not have been possible without the collaboration between us and our various stakeholders — health authorities, airlines, ground handling companies, the police, customs, border guards and the City of Vantaa. It has been a community effort, and that community has done a tremendous job.

A focus on high-quality customer experience has also been a significant factor in Finavia’s response to the pandemic. We have invested heavily in operations and services to create an environment in which passengers feel safe to travel and staff feel safe to work, and this has been reflected in positive results from ongoing customer surveys.

"We have invested heavily in operations and services to create an environment in which passengers feel safe to travel and staff feel safe to work."

In January 2021, Helsinki Airport was selected as the best European airport in its size category for 2020. The Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Award was given by the Airports Council International (ACI). Helsinki Airport also received recognition for its hygiene measures during the pandemic in 2020. In fact, our overall customer feedback during the pandemic actually increased. Combined with the ACI awards we received in January for best airport and for hygiene, this result has boosted our energy and confidence that we have done and are continuing to do the right thing.

Faster reinstatement of EU air travel with the EU digital COVID certificate

The aviation industry ultimately depends on the flow of travellers around the globe. One of the key opportunities with the potential to restore a significant share of travellers to the skies, at least in the European Union (EU), is the EU Digital COVID Certificate. The European Commission (EC) proposed the certificate in March 2021 (then called a ‘passport’). It is aimed at restoring non-essential travel within the EU and will be able to be issued to EU citizens, non-EU nationals who legally reside in the EU and visitors who have the right to travel to other member states.

As it currently stands, the certificate would ensure non-restricted travel within the EU not only for those who have already been vaccinated but also for those who have tested negatively or are able to prove their recovery from the coronavirus. This approach is designed to prevent discrimination against people who are not yet due for vaccination.

"The adoption of the EU Digital COVID Certificate would brighten up the prospects of air travel."

The adoption of the EU Digital COVID Certificate would brighten up the prospects of air travel. In addition to stepping up vaccinations, it is definitely the most important of the measures to facilitate travel. With the help of an EU-wide Covid-19 certificate, the aviation and tourism industry could begin to recover safely and responsibly.

COVID-19

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Vaccination must be global as well as fast

Another key factor in determining how quickly the aviation industry will recover is how successful vaccination programmes are. On the one hand, vaccinating enough of the global population might even remove the need for strategies such as the EU Digital COVID Certificate. On the other, even with a global effort, vaccinating most of the world population takes a lot of time.

The only way we’re going to get back on our feet in Europe is through a unified plan. It’s difficult for individuals to start planning travel if they have no idea how it’s going to happen in the future, and if plans vary from country to country. The unified direction is the ideal one, not only for Finavia or Helsinki Airport, but for all of Europe.

Think about it another way: to borrow a local example, the connection between Asia and Europe is particularly important for Helsinki Airport, and to be able to have European connections from Finland to Europe, we need to be able to have those transfer passengers. It’s all tied together.

Innovating to bolster the industry

Finavia has been thinking outside the box to speed up industry recovery. LED-based Ultraviolet C (UVC), for example, is an emerging technology that has now been used at our airports for some time to disinfect security control trays. Security control is one of the most important parts of the airport. Everyone must travel through this area, so it’s important to ensure that it is clean. Like many other airports, this is one passenger process that generates a lot of feedback, so the use of UVC technology will help us to serve passengers quickly and thoroughly.

We are proud of the innovations at Helsinki Airport, because we have always believed that it is important to focus on getting the basics right and doing them very well. But process speed isn’t the only thing we can improve. We have, for example, also started to research how to deliver a contactless experience at the airport — a way of travelling without having to touch any surfaces. This could help to reduce the likelihood or effects of potential future events that might one day pose a serious challenge to the industry.

The industry will recover. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. We must all play our role. The world powers are engaged in tough conversations. Our passengers act responsibly by wearing masks, cleaning their hands and staying socially distanced. And we at Finavia will continue to deliver a safe and smooth experience.

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