Airport exit document control | Marcelo Sastre


THE annual report of Spain’s airports authority is a mammoth document. What with annexes to the main report, there are some 300 pages.

Aena, in which the state has a 51% shareholding, doesn’t just have to take account of those with financial interests.

There are multiple stakeholders needing to know about, inter alia, corporate social responsibility, innovation, safety and quality.

And right now, they all need to know about something specific - “a challenge without precedents”, as the report terms it.

You don’t have to get too far into the report until you find it. Page 15.

The global air transport sector has not known anything like it since the Second World War.

In recent times there has been 9/11; there has been the financial crisis; there was SARS in 2003 and bird flu, but the impact of those pandemics was confined geographically.

Covid is a completely different thing, as if we needed any reminding.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, a UN agency), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Airports Council International (ACI); these are all cited in considering prospects for air travel.

Eurocontrol is mentioned as well. In Europe, 51% recovery is expected this year; 51% of 2019 levels, that is. By 2024, there will be 92% recovery. Full recovery will not be until 2026.

We have all become used, rather too used I would suggest, to Covid-recovery forecasts.

They can seem to veer between the downright depressingly pessimistic to the wildly optimistic.

They can also, moreover, appear to fluctuate almost by the day, while there is so much of this forecasting that you begin to take less and less notice or you ask - how do you really know?

An entity such as Aena is in the business of needing to know as best as it possibly can.

Air travel is strategic, hence why airlines have been getting huge amounts of state aid.

Air travel is intimately linked to economic performance.

Growth of economies certainly doesn’t mirror that of air traffic growth - a doubling every fifteen to twenty years, according to the report - but this air movement is very much a facet of the general economy and its well-being.

By implication, therefore, one might conclude that economic recovery will largely be made by 2024 but not completely until 2026.

But even Aena, in considering the relationship between air traffic and GDP, cannot be certain.

Recovery could be very much quicker. It all depends on the transmission of the virus and the capacity to control.

Indeed; it hardly needs a major airports authority to come to this conclusion. We are all able to figure this out for ourselves.

In much the same way as forecasting recovery can seem to be like an exercise in plucking numbers out of the air, so forecasting for future events can be as hit and miss.

At least with the economic recovery predictions, one can determine a certain logic, but when contemplating the future, any logic can go out the window.

Air transport, any business, any society can be affected, its actions shaped by the unforeseen.

Yet for all this, Covid (or something along Covid lines) was not unforeseen.

There was a perfect logic in expecting that it would happen at some point, and as an example of this I can go back some thirty years to a conference in New Orleans.

It was a strategic management conference.

A keynote speaker was a futurist, whose work had involved a close association with Shell, a company committed to scenario planning and worst cases.

What if there’s a pandemic? It was a question I’d never asked myself, and it was doubtful that anyone else in the audience had.

I don’t recall there having been a satisfactory answer to the question. Probably because there was no satisfactory answer.

Futurist scenario planning was, in one respect, all about anticipation of what can go wrong will go wrong, being aware of the possibility and of establishing contingencies.

When Covid struck, that conference came to mind. Where had been the scenario planning?
Had anyone - business, governments, whoever - given serious consideration to the possibility?

And now that we have Aena, governments, consultants and Lord knows who else coming up with their recovery forecasts, are they at the same time contemplating a further apparent unforeseen?

Boris Johnson is most definitely correct in joining with other world leaders in establishing some form of global accord for another pandemic.

It’s not if, but when. The when could be decades away.

It could be a hell of a lot sooner. And given this, I wonder to what extent the recovery forecasts and indeed forecasts that go beyond the recovery can ever be the same.

We’ve realised that what can go wrong will go wrong.

It would be folly to disregard the chances of a similar event. And in not disregarding this, do businesses like Aena and governments have to alter their future thinking? For good.