It is no exaggeration to say that COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the airport industry. During the high point of the crisis, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol handled traffic numbers comparable to the early 1990s. The travel and border restrictions imposed by the Dutch government were among the most stringent in Europe; however, our situation was far from unique among European airports.
Like Schiphol, most airports were quick to react to the crisis. Faced with often limited information and a quickly changing pandemic and regulatory landscape, these actions were, by and large, of an ad-hoc and creative nature. Health screening emerged organically among airlines. Meanwhile, individual countries developed their own protocols for testing, document checking and quarantine requirements. This lack of standardisation was apparent here in Europe n Ighist 19 where, despite EU-led recommendations for tackling the virus, health remains a national responsibility and Member States remain able to apply specific measures as they see fit. The introduction of the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate and colour coding system was a major achievement in improving regional harmonisation. However, much more must be done if Europe is to present a truly unified front against the next major outbreak.
As commercial aviation enjoys a period of relative stability in most parts of the world, and traffic is recovering, we cannot afford to lose the momentum of the past months or to forget what we have learned from the recent crisis. Now is the time to prepare for future pandemic situations; a recent scenario analysis by the Dutch Pandemic Preparedness Centre distinguishes between four potential (COVID-19) scenarios for the years to come. These range from the disease being nullified to the level of a simple cold to a worst-case scenario of highly virulent variations triggering full lockdowns, and everything in between. Meanwhile, rising population densities and the effects of climate change mean an ever-present risk that an entirely new pandemic will arise. This is one threat that is here to stay.
As airport operators, we must embrace this new reality, and at Schiphol we are putting in place a dedicated pandemic resilience strategy to ward against future threats. However, as recent events have taught us, resilience is most effective when it is developed and implemented across the wider airport network. Ensuring the skies stay open during the next health crisis will require airports, governments and other aviation stakeholders to work together from the same playbook – ideally at a national, EU and international level.