An interview with Eleni Kaloyirou, CEO Hermes Airports. By Ross Falconer
The world we live in today is a very uncertain place. The crisis unleashed by COVID-19 was unforeseen and certainly on a larger scale than anything we have seen before in the aviation industry. But it is not the first crisis, nor will it be the last, that the industry is called upon to deal with.
“To survive this and future crises we need to become agile as organisations, able to adjust in the face of uncertainty in order to conserve our liquidity and ensure business continuity,” says Eleni Kaloyirou, CEO Hermes Airports. “At the same time, we have to maintain our vision for the future and, while we may need to adapt parts of our strategy, we shouldn’t lose sight of where we are headed so that we don’t take actions that are detrimental to our long-term strategic priorities.”
Hermes Airports, which manages Cyprus’ two gateways – Larnaka and Pafos airports – has made extensive efforts not just to survive, but also to excel during the COVID-19 crisis. “Our priorities from the start of the pandemic have been the protection and safety of our staff and passengers, ensuring at the same time business continuity – an effort that required quick reflexes,” Kaloyirou explains. “I would highlight two main areas where we have done well: the preservation of our operational efficiency and the seamless implementation of the newly-introduced measures by all airport stakeholders.”
Safe and seamless processing of passengers
In its response to COVID-19, Hermes Airports has focused on three key areas: People, Communication and Restart. From the beginning of the crisis, it recognised the importance of communication and took steps to stay connected with passengers, airlines, all airport stakeholders, and its own people. “We have kept both the passengers and the public informed on all important updates relating to the airports’ operation,” says Kaloyirou. “This was achieved with the use of our digital channels, but also the chatbot service which proved to be extremely useful as it provided responses on a 24-hour basis to enquiries about the health protocols, as well as flights.”
Regular virtual meetings were held with all airport stakeholders to ensure everyone was kept informed of the developing situation, the need to implement the health protocols, and mitigation measures. “At the same time, when staying home was the new modus operandi, we wanted to let people know that we care both for their physical and mental health, so we embarked on a Stay Safe / Stay Home social media campaign,” Kaloyirou explains. “Under the umbrella of ‘Travelling Never Ends’ we watched sold-out shows from home, we remembered, and we reminded people why we love our country, and found ways to make staying at home more pleasant using the hashtag #wecareforyou.”
Likewise, Hermes Airports wanted to support the well-being of its staff by offering daily tips through the company’s intranet, as well as a series of weekly webinars and videos that encouraged employees to maintain their positivity and calmness. “Moreover, we acted as a bridge between airlines and the rest of the tourism stakeholders – government, tourism boards, hoteliers, etc – to communicate the message that Cyprus was preparing for restart and doing all that was necessary to keep the destination safe and ready to welcome airline customers back,” Kaloyirou adds.
Hermes Airports worked closely with the Cypriot Government for the preparation of a detailed State travel protocol encompassing new operating procedures aimed at maintaining the good epidemiological condition of the island, while also ensuring that the airports would be at the forefront of building confidence in Cyprus as a safe destination.
“We then acted as a coordinator for its implementation by all stakeholders,” says Kaloyirou. “A new cleaning protocol was adopted and necessary adaptations to the existing infrastructure were made.”
These adaptations included the installation of thermal cameras for arriving and departing passengers as well as staff, the requirement to wear masks throughout the airport for passengers and employees, the installation of Perspex screens at all points with customer contact, and the implementation of a procedure for dealing with suspected COVID-19 cases. “Finally, we adapted a number of spaces within the airport to serve as testing areas for COVID-19 for incoming flights – a crucial element in the government’s response to the pandemic, and we put in place the procedures to facilitate the safe and seamless processing of passengers through these,” Kaloyirou comments.
Generating green power and decreasing carbon footprint
Larnaka and Pafos airports are both accredited at Level 3+ Neutrality of ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation and preserving its sustainability roadmap remains a top priority for Hermes Airports. “In this direction, one of the initiatives we are currently undertaking is the implementation of two photovoltaic plants for onsite power generation at the two airports, generating green power for self-consumption of between 25% and 30% of the airports’ power requirements, further contributing to the reduction of Hermes’ carbon dioxide emissions,” says Kaloyirou.
An important major project at Larnaka Airport was the upgrade of the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, which was completed in phases due to its complex nature. “It helps us attain an overall reduction in energy consumption, thus decreasing the carbon footprint of the main energy-consuming infrastructure of the airport, while improving the capacity and efficiency of the system,” Kaloyirou explains. “The total energy reduction achieved from the implementation of this project is equal to 30% and 2,400 tons of carbon emissions.”
“A whole new momentum for recovery and longer-term growth”
Significantly, Wizz Air announced a new base at Larnaka Airport in May 2020, during the lockdown period. Starting in July, the airline has based two A320s at Larnaka with 11 new services to seven countries.
“Right in the midst of the crisis, years of discussions and deliberations with Wizz Air bore fruit,” says Kaloyirou. “The establishment of a base is a vote of confidence by the airline for Cyprus and the airport. It came at a very critical time, giving room for optimism and created a whole new momentum for recovery and longer-term growth.”
Looking ahead, Hermes Airports, like the rest of the industry, accepts that a return to 2019 passenger levels will take time. Nevertheless, Kaloyirou has no doubt that demand for air travel will continue to exist and will gradually revive, especially for an island country like Cyprus with a heavy dependence on tourism. “Our long-term strategic priorities remain in place and, if anything, we can see that we need to increase our focus on the sustainability of our business. Our immediate priority is to work collectively as an industry towards the harmonisation of travel regulations and testing throughout Europe, so that we can start to restore traffic and connectivity, until a more permanent solution in terms of a vaccine or a cure is found.”