In this part of our project "Ideas for international airlines during and beyond the crisis". is about the question "What is the current situation of the airlines in the context of the Corona pandemic".
Hardly any other industry has been so visibly affected by the ongoing Corona pandemic as the airline industry. International air traffic came to a virtual standstill from one day to the next. The industry, which used to see over 100,000 aircraft movements a day worldwide, carrying vacationers, business people, commuters and cargo, is literally at a standstill. Even the effects of September 11 and the global economic crisis around 2009 on air traffic seem negligible in comparison.
Only the most necessary flights are being made at the moment, for example to bring people back to their home countries and, of course, freight traffic, which has taken on a new significance as a result of the crisis. If you look at the sky these days, contrails have become a rarity. But the silence is deceptive. In the background, the commercial airlines are working feverishly to re-establish or revive air traffic in order to bring passengers safely and soundly to their destinations again as soon as possible - and to connect the world.
Mood of the industry
There is a depressed mood among airlines worldwide. There has never been anything like this before in this industry and on this scale. The tension is extremely high, as the existence of many companies is at stake.
In addition, the industry is currently lacking ideas that would free it from the dilemma of the current situation. The overall picture leaves the viewer with a bitter aftertaste regarding the current and future development prospects of the aviation industry, which is otherwise spoiled by growth.
Nonetheless, the aviation industry - and especially its employees - are fully behind their current projects (this refers essentially to the airlines themselves and, in a broader sense, their ventures) and want to keep them alive at all costs.
Many employees in the aviation industry like the current 'forced leave' at the beginning. However, this is not a more sustainable and satisfactory state of affairs for them in the long term.
Within the aviation industry there is a high degree of identification of the employees with the respective products (essentially this means the aircraft) and the associated services.
In many cases, the monetary remuneration of employees in this industry plays a subordinate role. The main motivators include being allowed to work in a highly technological and complex environment (which is not accessible to the average person), representing the airline and its image, flexibility in scheduling - and last but not least the fact that they get to travel the world while working.
In addition, customer satisfaction and safety are the industry's most important assets.
Crisis as an opportunity
The current crisis and the associated requirements are forcing the airlines to develop innovative solutions in a timely manner, which under normal circumstances would probably have lain dormant in the drawers of the companies for years to come.
As perplexing as it may sound at first glance in the current situation, the spectrum of new possibilities (solutions) is very broad and accessible to any competitor in the global market who sees the crisis as an opportunity.
Airline responses to the crisis
Only few companies allow themselves in this critical time to deviate from the originally planned course, which they outlined before the crisis, and to let go of the 'old familiar' or even to take the plunge. Those companies that do so will be wildly successful.
Right now is an optimal time for all companies to clean up, sort out and restructure the entire portfolio. This has not been possible in the normally tightly timed operational process and is long overdue for many airlines. Most airlines have understood this and are already positioning themselves optimally according to their respective level of knowledge in order to be able to get going again immediately after the crisis.
Airlines that have already pursued an ailing or long-term unhealthy corporate organization and philosophy will not survive the crisis, or will do so only severely damaged. For example, companies that have been more profit-oriented than customer-oriented are now, and especially after the crisis has subsided, threatened with an enormous loss of image, including the associated financial consequences.
This will allow the emergence of new airlines - surpassing the old ones in terms of efficiency and customer orientation - with much better and more environmentally sustainable concepts.
Carrier of the virus
The airlines are increasingly in the public eye in the context of the crisis. Many passengers can't wait for flights to return to normal as soon as possible so they can go about their usual business. Not to mention the many people who, after the ongoing quarantine, are longing for a relaxing holiday on the beach and in freedom.
However, this euphoria is overshadowed by the fact that, from the public's point of view, air travel has been instrumental in spreading the virus worldwide and could continue to be so in the future.
The current prevailing opinion of health experts further underlines this picture. It is imperative that this circumstance be taken into account in the development of future, preventive solutions in order not to further damage passengers' trust in airlines. To this end, we have already developed our own concrete ideas in the following.
Standard protective measures
Of course, the airlines are already working at full speed to enable a gradual increase in flight operations again. To this end, the current technologies and measures known from medical technology must be configured accordingly and put into use. Basically, these include:
- Disinfection of aircraft cabins and ground infrastructure
- Separation of the aircraft cabin areas as well as the waiting areas at the airports (this can be realized in the simplest case with mouth protection for all participants)
- Avoid crowds along the entire travel process
In this context, the airlines also take the opportunity to complement their solution finding and implementation with public innovation. This can be promising in that these solutions can lead to a high level of customer acceptance.
What nobody knows
The airlines are currently trying to avert the greatest possible damage and are struggling behind the scenes to find solutions. The public is getting virtually no information about the extensive measures that are going on in the background. This is also a good thing, as the companies can present themselves in a new guise - which is hopefully more reality than appearance - after the crisis.
Efforts are being made to find solutions that are in harmony with society and do not have a negative impact on other areas of society. Possible innovations by the airlines may include a better and clearer price structure for the products offered, a greater sense of security for passengers and an industry-wide increase in environmental awareness.
Protect renowned airlines
When looking at the current news concerning the airlines, it becomes apparent that the aim is to protect the national carriers in particular through state funding or through further state participation.
We would be very surprised if Deutsche Lufthansa has not yet set up a special task force to lead the company out of the crisis in the best possible way - irrespective of the government support that has been promised. Its main task would be to work out appropriate solutions and test them for their applicability. The solutions could be put into immediate use via ad-hoc prototyping, thereby achieving the above-mentioned goals for a gradual increase in flight operations.
The responsibilities and scope of such a task force would not be fully known within the Group, partly for reasons of confidentiality. This would be legitimate in order to protect Lufthansa's strategic realignment. The company would thus not come under unnecessary pressure from outside, especially from the government, regarding the implementation and application of the solutions it has found.
Lufthansa finds itself in a certain stalemate with the German government, which on the one hand is partly responsible for Lufthansa's plight due to the protective measures imposed, while on the other hand the company is dependent on financial support from the state. Lufthansa now has to find the best possible balance between financial protection and government independence.
Current competitive situation
Airlines around the world are currently struggling to find solutions. In this delicate phase, they are supporting each other as best they can and coordinating on a macro level.
However, a still prevailing competitive mentality within the industry is currently still preventing detailed coordination at all levels. Of course, one secretly wants to be the first to offer flights again.
From the outside, the airlines have a friendly atmosphere and a sporting competition in which, if possible, everyone emerges as a winner.
In the next part of our project "Ideas for international airlines during and beyond the crisis". is about the question "Further immediate measures airlines can take to enable regular flight operations again in the context of the crisis" - in other words, first innovative ideas to develop the current situation in a constructive and future-oriented way.