Standing by airports to support a safe and smooth recovery from COVID-19

Airports were quick to put in place the necessary sanitary measures to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spread and to regain consumer confidence. To help airports better prepare their recovery, EUROCONTROL, with the support of ACI EUROPE and other industry partners, commissioned an impact assessment study on the implementation of the COVID-19 safety measures on airport performance. Report by Eugene Leeman.

To help airports better prepare their recovery, EUROCONTROL, with the support of ACI EUROPE and other industry partners, commissioned an impact assessment study on the implementation of COVID-19 safety measures on airport performance.

In May this year – rather early in the COVID-19 crisis – in its Off-The-Ground Recovery Plan, ACI EUROPE raised the idea of looking into the impact of COVID-19 on airport performance by means of simulation modelling. EUROCONTROL supported it from the start and was able to allocate funding and resources fairly quickly. As a result, EUROCONTROL published a comprehensive study on 10 September, commissioned from the Airport Research Center (ARC), to help airports prepare for their recovery.

With key inputs from ARC, ACI EUROPE and four airports/airport groups (Paris CDG, London Heathrow, Stuttgart and Swedavia), as well as with the support of IATA, the study used detailed simulations to model the potential effect of COVID-19 measures on airport performance, in particular on terminal operations, including passenger journey time, terminal throughput and boarding gate processing capacity.

With the possibility that some airports could face capacity issues during August, conclusions needed to be ready with a tight turnaround. This meant a high workload for the team involved.

The project team, steered by Bruno Desart (Manager Airport Planning and Performance, EUROCONTROL) and Uta Kohse (Managing Partner, ARC), quickly set to work. During a two-month period, multiple workshops with stakeholders were held and inputs were collected, evaluated and used by ARC.

By the end of July, the main conclusions could be drawn. The results were first shared in a webinar jointly organised by EUROCONTROL and ARC on 6 August, under the theme “COVID-19 Impact on Airport Operations and Capacity Webinar”. Despite taking place during the peak summer season, the webinar attracted 270 participants from all over the world, which was indicative of the high relevance of the study for the industry.

The main conclusions of the study are:

  • Airports need to focus on key limiting components – security control/immigration in terms of throughput challenges, and boarding gates and baggage reclaim in terms of space constraints.
  • Airports already congested before the COVID-19 crisis can expect to reach their maximum saturation capacity at just 60-75% of their peak 2019 traffic.
  • To avoid further delays and conflicting requests to passengers, greater harmonisation in terms of COVID-19 measures supporting passenger safety and re-building trust is essential across EU Member States.

The simulation results (*) show that, for the same passenger numbers in a pre-COVID-19 queue:

  • 50% more space is required at check-in
  • 100% more space at security control
  • 35-50% more space at boarding gates
  • Up to 10 minutes additional time to the departing passenger journey
  • 100% more space at immigration
  • 30-50% more space for baggage reclaim
  • 5-20 minutes additional time to the arriving passenger journey
  • Additional measures are needed if health checks are required for arrivals/transfers

(*) The percentages are based on the recommendation of 1.5m physical distance and do not apply for other distances.

The full report can be downloaded here:

Eugene Leeman is ACI EUROPE’s Liaison Officer to EUROCONTROL.

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