Tirana International Airport saw the full impact of COVID-19 in April, when it handled 1.5% of normal traffic. Its crisis management strategy includes an aid package for staff, reduced capital expenditure, and comprehensive hygiene and social distancing measures. Dr. Constantin von Alvensleben, Chief Executive Officer, Tirana International Airport, briefed Ross Falconer on these initiatives.
Tirana International Airport’s traffic has reduced significantly since the middle of March as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Indeed, in March 2020 the airport handled one-third of the traffic achieved in the same month last year.
“The complete effect of the lockdown hit us in April, when we had 4,000 out of 240,000 normal passengers, so roughly 1.5% of our normal traffic,” explains Dr. Constantin von Alvensleben, Chief Executive Officer, Tirana International Airport.
The airport remains open for emergency, humanitarian or repatriation flights. In addition, there are one or two cargo flights per day and occasional General Aviation flights. “Each flight is a good flight for us, but of course there is no way that we can cover our costs with such few movements. Under normal circumstances, we have 64 turnarounds per day,” says von Alvensleben.
Tirana International Airport has responded with a range of crisis management initiatives.
“As you can imagine, the operational staff, in particular our employees in the ground handling staff and the security staff, were left with no or only very little work,” says von Alvensleben.
For the months of April and May, the TIA Administrative and Management Council has approved an aid package to go through this period of crisis. “This package aims at alleviating as much as we can the difficulties that hit the economy of each family at the airport. Although legally TIA is not obligated, humanely TIA remains committed to its employees,” von Alvensleben explains. “All employees are guaranteed 50% of their basic salary for April and May. In addition, the bonus for 2019 is being distributed for the first time along with the salary of April, so also helping in this situation.”
The airport’s top management have voluntarily reduced their individual salaries by 20%-50%. Meanwhile, for all employees that are identified as living in real economic difficulties, a Voluntary Donation Scheme from the company’s management staff has been created that will help increase personal income. “We will not solve everything – we are aware of that – but at least we contribute to alleviating matters somehow, hoping that things will get back into normality soon,” says von Alvensleben.
In addition to cutting other operational expenditure, the airport is reducing capital expenditure to the full extent possible.
“For the remaining traffic, as little as it may be, we have introduced precautionary measures such as hygiene, disinfection, fever control of incoming passengers, distance-keeping, Plexiglas shields in front of counters etc,” von Alvensleben adds. “So, we are doing everything to be ready for the restart of traffic whenever it comes.”
“We are here, we remain open, we will work on coming back as soon as possible”
Tirana International Airport place strong emphasis on good, active communication, particularly using social media. In a way, many people pay attention to what the airport does, even attributing a leadership role to it. As such, its messages have been always positive and encouraging, with health and well-being the number one priority.
“It may have inspired confidence that we said loud and clear: we are here, we remain open, we will work on coming back as soon as possible,” says von Alvensleben. “In the meantime, we will follow all protective measures to make sure that the virus is kept under control. I believe that these messages were well received.”
While there is a strong acceptance of protective measures, von Alvensleben believes there is also a desire to travel again. “Air traffic has a high psychological significance, in particular for a country like Albania that needs to use flights to reach European destinations because ferry and car transport is much less efficient. It will make people happy here if scheduled passenger traffic will restart.”
He forecasts a realistic, gradual recovery, with a reduced offer and reduced demand at the beginning. “Both airlines and passengers will have to get comfortable with new rules and procedures. A full ‘back to normal’ may require the availability of a vaccine. But we will get there, maybe already some time in 2021.”