By Sarah Hales, Director - Avistra, Aviation consulting
As a result of COVID-19, the aviation industry is experiencing a fundamental structural change. Many regional Queensland communities depend on affordable air routes for health, education, and tourism.
In aviation development we collect data about city pair markets and use it to make educated guesses about how viable an airline route will be. A ‘city pair’ is simply a pair of cities, for example Bundaberg-Sydney or Busselton-Melbourne. We will source airline, government, and tourism data on existing travel between two regions. We then use the data to construct a compelling business case to attract a carrier to operate the route.
This business case development approach is based on two massive assumptions:
1) That travel patterns from the past can be reliably used to predict the future, and
2) That consumers want to travel, know where they want to travel to and where they can travel to, in the next 12 months.
Of course, given COVID-19, neither of these two assumptions are reliable, creating unusual problems for those given the task of rebuilding aviation connectivity for our communities.
So, what should regional airports and regional councils do when it is almost impossible to collect reliable local intelligence using survey methods? Here are some suggestions from our team, which specialises in helping regional communities to drive economic, tourism and social growth through their airport assets.
1) You need to act quickly and develop a strategy with what data, tools and relationships you have. You can review it when more information is available, but do not sit around waiting for the perfect moment, for the rate of change to slow or for the dust to settle. It might not. Get to work now.
2) Play the long game. Aside from the local intelligence you can offer an airline, the other essential piece is to demonstrate a multi-stakeholder, community-wide team approach to rebuilding your community’s aviation connectivity. Get your tourism body, your chamber of commerce, your big drivers of travel on board and show your airline target that you are all ready to work together to do what it takes to ensure your route is successful for the airline and for the community.
3) Make new friends. Such enormous turbulence in the aviation sector is creating space for the emergence of new players. You need to get to know who the emerging airlines are and the details of their network priorities and fleet capabilities. Similarly, reach out to the city pair partner at the other end. A joint approach to an airline, of two communities working together with a solid marketing plan and an army of supportive stakeholders is powerfully reassuring in the current environment.
4) Plug in. Get to know how your tourism opportunity landscape has changed. Is this crisis really the opportunity your community has been waiting for?
5) Get to know cargo. This is the only sector of the aviation industry really making any money right now. Cargo can be a key component of a passenger route business case. Airports all over the world are realising there are opportunities in cargo that need to be harnessed. Aircraft around the world are being converted from passenger to freighter configurations.
We know that some routes will lose capacity and some routes will shut down altogether. Some will return and some routes which have operated for a long time won’t be back at all. New route opportunities will be established. Ideas that wouldn’t fly 12 months ago might today. Airlines will go out of business and new ones will emerge.
And one of the few things that we know about the new normal is that it is likely to involve an ever-increasing rate of change.
So, don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, or for clarity about what lies ahead. Every regional community must fight for the aviation connectivity that it needs. YOUR team is the expert on YOUR community and the opportunities which are there. It is time to build a strategy and start moving forwards. The perfect time is now and the game to play is the long game.
Avistra Aviation Consulting is dedicated to helping regional communities achieve economic, tourism and social growth through strategically leveraging their airport assets. We can assist with aviation, tourism and economic strategy development, aviation business cases and airline engagement.