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Operational re-start: Supporting the world’s airports in challenging times

Coping with the COVID crisis now and accelerating to the future

Aerospace
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By Amol Mhatre | July 10, 2020

Exploring how people risk and human factors are key to the successful reopening of the world’s airports post-COVID

At its core, the COVID-19 pandemic is proving both a human and operational crisis for the aviation industry; for some individuals and companies, it is literally a matter of survival. For many in the industry, the challenges and risks are unprecedented.

At its core, the COVID-19 pandemic is proving both a human and operational crisis for the aviation industry

The Airports Council International and the International Civil Aviation Organization have given the aviation industry broad guidance on protecting against the further spread and recovering from the pandemic. But as aviation moves slowly towards the recovery phase, many practitioners are still searching for individual strategies to cope with the present business impact and guide a return to full operations in a fluid commercial and regulatory environment.

With that in mind, Willis Towers Watson is hosting the first in a series of "sustainable reset" webinars this month (July) as digital alternatives to their annual Airport Risk Community (ARC) conference.

The series will run at least for the remainder of this year to help the aviation sector cope with the impact of the pandemic and prepare for a restart; each episode will investigate key challenges for the industry to consider.

The first webinar – A sustainable reset: the critical human factors in rebuilding airport operations" – will broadcast on July 15 at 09:00 (BST), treating virtual attendees to an interactive panel discussion with subject-matter experts.

The panellists will discuss why technology, innovation and rebuilding employee trust and public confidence will need to be at the centre of any strategies to cope with the pandemic’s many challenges.

Recovering from the COVID-driven shutdown will also hold unique opportunities to re-orient and accelerate a facility’s transition to the workplace of the future

While the challenges of a reset are numerous, recovering from the COVID-driven shutdown will also hold unique opportunities to re-orient and accelerate a facility’s transition to the workplace of the future.

The panel will share new modelling techniques from the science of ‘infrastructure epidemiology’, an examination of the role infrastructure plays as a vector for the spread of disease, and how that knowledge can form the principles of epidemic control in aviation.

They will also discuss how rebuilding the customer experience to suit airports’ new operating demands will require both redesigning passenger flows to deter transmission of infectious disease and advancing plans for new ‘contact-free’ features such as pre-boarding approvals, e-passport gates and retinal scans, etc.

Airports and their third-party employers will need to embrace technology to minimise human interaction

Airports and their third-party employers will need to embrace technology to minimise human interaction, while assuring cleaner corridors and a strict application of transit-area protocols such as temperature checks, masks and fumigation. Some measures may ease over time; others, such as the digitisation and automation of many consumer interactions, will need to be accelerated. These initiatives will affect the hiring of talent, as well as management and reward strategies, as demand for digital skills and retraining programs increase.

Some airports may struggle to rapidly rehire talent and critical workers due to physical safety concerns, and related expectations for risk-based rewards. As the demand for laid-off and furloughed workers returns, employer competitiveness will need to be re-established in ways that remain cost-effective for newly cash-strapped operators.

The aviation sector also faces many future uncertainties including sustained changes in consumer patterns and labour market expectations. Furthermore, acceleration of digitisation and automation strategies will create a need for digital talent and skills. These factors create unique challenges in competing for and engaging talent due to concerns about job safety, physical and psychological wellbeing as well as dynamic and purpose-driven work and professional growth opportunities.

The ACI expects global airport revenues to fall US$97 billion this year and uncertain post-COVID revenue streams may affect their ability to compete for human capital. They will need to find innovative ways to deploy, reward and retain talent and optimise labour costs. Ensuring leadership amidst management lay-offs will be another key challenge.

In terms of risk management, there may need to be a broader examination of who within each organisation owns the responsibility for managing people risks; how the risk, safety and HR functions can act in a more integrated way, and how best to collaborate across all risk and HR functions of third party employers, including airlines, to manage risks and build human resilience. Pandemics may be human crises, but they are also organisational crises, in terms of economic survival and operational resilience.

Pandemics may be human crises, but they are also organisational crises, in terms of economic survival and operational resilience

Re-thinking a more integrated approach to ‘people risks’ will be a key challenge as organisations cope with and emerge from the pandemic.

Register here for the webinar and join a comprehensive discussion about the strategies for a "sustainable reset" in aviation.

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Managing Director, Integrated Solutions and Innovation

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