Airports After Coronavirus: What Happens Now?

By Elina Aleinikova

The travel industry won't be the same after the coronavirus pandemic. But the pandemic has affected in many ways the many sub-industries within this sector. In this article, we analyze the impact of COVID-19 on airports: What will happen to airports after coronavirus? And how can technology help the industry?

How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Airports

The operations of airports significantly depend on the activity of the airlines working with them. In terms of air travel, between 2009 and 2019, air passenger revenue in the global aviation industry grew from around $374 billion to about $561 billion, respectively. 

In 2018, a report conducted by ACI found that global airport revenues were $178 billion. Aeronautical revenue represented 55.9% of that amount, non-aeronautical revenue represented 39.2%, and non-operating revenue represented 4.9%. Aeronautical revenue comprises the majority of airport revenues, and includes airline terminal space rentals, airline landing fees, and usage fees for terminals, gates, services and passenger counts; non- aeronautical revenues include retail concessions, car parking, property & real estate, among others.  

According to Pew Research Centre, at least nine-tenths of the world's population, or 7.1 billion people as of 31st March 2020, were living in countries that had introduced travel restrictions on non-citizens and non-residents, such as tourists, business travelers and new immigrants. There's no doubt that airports have been heavily impacted by travel restrictions caused by the spread of the COVID-19 since the travel has come to a standstill. 

As of May 2020, the Airports Council International estimates a reduction of 4.6 billion passengers overall during the year, and the decline in airport revenues to reach more than $97 billion. 

Over recent years, the growth of e-commerce and the decreasing cost of airline fuel has contributed to the increase of the air freight market. In terms of cargo shipments, the global volume of air freight has registered a positive trend since 2010, with the largest flows of air cargo being shipped between East Asia and the United States. airports after coronavirus covid impact

Worldwide air freight traffic from 2004 to 2020 (in million metric tons), Statista

Although the global air cargo capacity is down by 35% because of pandemics, airports still have a substantial share of its infrastructure open for operations, even during the full shutdown to passengers.

Who Has Been Most Affected By COVID-19?

Although airports are not directly contracted with passengers, they still have to ensure the safe experience before and after the flight, according to guidelines provided by WHO. As airports are influenced by the activity of airlines, the impact on airports will significantly depend on the length of travel restrictions and the lockdown period. In general, small airports relying just on operations of regional airlines are more vulnerable than international airports in terms of potential passenger loss. 

In terms of lay-offs, the majority of airports haven't taken such drastic measures as airlines. However, many catering service providers and concession vendors have cut their labor force because of airport shutdowns for passengers. 

After COVID-19, the size of the global airport operations market is expected to grow from $8.5 billion in 2020 to $14.5 billion by 2025.

What Will Happen to Airports After Coronavirus?

Many industry players have introduced different measures in response to COVID-19, and we believe those proving that traveling with them is safe will regain passenger trust the fastest. 

As an example, Hong Kong International Airport has introduced 3 cleaning robots for public areas and restrooms and a full-body disinfection booth CLeanTech, that is currently used for their employees undertaking public health and quarantine duties for passenger arrivals. Implementing a rather short-term solution, Emirates was the first airline to conduct rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers, and as of the 4th of May, Vienna Airport offers onsite tests as well in order to avoid the 14 days of quarantine at home.

We might experience that the travelers' journey at the airport, at least in the nearest future, is going to take longer than the 1-3 hour experience to which we were used to before the pandemic.

airports after coronavirus covid impact 3

Airports have taken different measures to continue staying afloat, conserving cash and reducing costs: laid-off employees, reduced salaries, renegotiated contracts and consolidated operations. During and after the pandemic, cost reduction and operational efficiency is going to be one of the main priorities along with improved standards for safety and disinfection. 

The travel of the future is going to be as seamless and contactless as possible, with possibilities of biometric check-in and contactless luggage drop-off that requires UV disinfection, thermal scanning and disinfection tunnels. According to SITA, about 4 out of 10 airports are using identity verification systems with self-service machines but towards the end of 2021, the number is expected to rise to seven.

New Technologies & Startups To Help Airlines After Coronavirus

There are solutions that we believe will stay in airports in the long-term. We're talking about those related to air purification, filtering and disinfection using LED and UV lights, ozone and sterilization; advanced surface coating technologies such as nanocoatings and nanoparticles, self-cleaning materials; autonomous cleaning robots; contactless solutions using biometrics and thermal sensing; and digital identity proving the immunization of travelers through the connection with electronic health records.

Some startup examples working in the area: 

Cleanliness and disinfection

  • Avidbots: A startup providing purpose-built robots that integrate the sensor technology, using lasers and 3D cameras, with AI navigation and innovative product design, ensuring cleanliness at airports. 
  • Evri.ai: This startup has come up with the world's first Self-Roaming Hand Sanitizer that is also able to screen the temperature of travelers. Government buildings, hospitals, airports, hotels, office buildings and malls can use their solution to reduce the spread of the virus and increase the frequency of hand sanitizing in high-density venues. 

Rapid threat or health identification and monitoring

  • Vantiq and Amorph Systems have created a collaborative platform for real-time infection detection and containment for airports, called IDCS (Infection Detection and Containment System). It combines thermal cameras, flight information, passenger flows and real-time communication to instantly detect passengers with high temperatures and alert airport operations control to identify potential contaminated areas. 
  • Bleenco: This startup detects your temperature from under the tongue with a quick 3-second scan using a standard RGB camera and a thermal camera with an API.
  • Yoti: Their core product includes a smartphone app that allows users to create a digitized version of their ID and share the verified attributes with organizations that participate on the platform. Yoti also offers a range of B2B SaaS products from embedded digital identity verification to predictive AI-powered technology. In the light of COVID-19, Yoti has introduced a solution for secure and digital Covid-19 Immunity Certificates.

Contactless solutions

  • Elenium has created the world-first touchless triage kiosk that allows quickly and effortlessly self-assess vital health signs, including temperature, respiratory and heart rates at a safe distance. Elenium's solutions are implemented in various airports, such as Hong Kong International Airport, Sydney Airport, Delhi Airport and others.


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