Aviation can heal

While passenger air transport is suffering worldwide, a sector made up of worthy people is analyzing the phenomenon and working to ensure aid, rescue, transport and security. 

marzec 2020

The new Covid-19 has one feature, which is now showing itself in its current condition as a global pandemic: unpredictability. Its trends, as well as its genesis and development, are still being investigated, with the result that while we hinder its effects we must, at the same time, contain its outbreak, aiming for definitive solutions (a vaccine or cure). 

Each and every economic activity (by definition, based on control and planning) has been taken by surprise. Everyone is in the same boat, every economic sector is (or will be) "affected" by the situation, even because of the lockdown measures active in many countries now: but aviation, as Ursula Von der Leyen said in the very first announcement regarding the Coronavirus emergency, is a symbolic sector. More specifically, civil aviation, passenger air transport. 

A situation such as the current one has a massive, global impact on airlines: space is limited on most flights (According to EASA, air recirculation and the quality of air in the passenger cabin are healthy). The likelihood of traveling at a distance of less than one meter between passengers is minimal. And to this, we must add the temporary closure of many borders and restrictions on domestic travel in order to prevent the spread of the infection, as well as the justified passengers’ fear of travelling in such conditions. As a result, according to the latest IATA data, passenger air transport is looking at losses of up to USD 252 billion: global airlines are cutting 20 to 90% of their scheduled passenger routes.

Pomigliano dArco - Test prep activities on a GEnx engine powering B787 plane

And to think that  only some months ago there were indications that growth rates for air transport in Europe were estimated at 42% for the next twenty years, while now an international decline of 44% is estimated for the current year. To get the picture, on last January 6 this year, the number of global flights tracked by  the FlightRadar24 website have been 184,566: on Monday March 30, the same website tracked a total of 74,295 flights worldwide for the whole day.

When we travel we generate wealth: according to IATA estimates,  57% of global tourism is via air. Aviation connects large numbers of individuals in a short time, from one part of the globe to another: when we travel we buy goods and services in each country, which in turn were supplied by another country, therefore increasing the wealth of all the countries in which and from which it is possible to travel.

To a certain extent, airlines are the tip of the iceberg, the most visible part of aviation: in fact, next to the people traveling, there is a multitude of goods (in terms of value, approximately 35% of global trade). Sometimes these goods are literally underneath the passengers: on flights we take for business or personal reasons, it is possible that the hold is carrying wares that are flying the same route and is right next to our suitcases.

Rivalta - worker assemblying a GE9X accessory gearbox the largest of its kind

In this current period, it is still generally possible for our supermarkets and our homes to be supplied as normal because cargo flights are still  connecting the world of commerce. In fact, in the last weeks, with the increase in e-commerce, there has also been  an increase in the number of cargo flights. We only need to consider, for example, that China (whose world record in production is well known) is gradually returning to a situation of normality.

Behind the flights we see on the screens at the airport or by simply looking up at a clear sky, there is an economic chain made up of millions of jobs (IATA  has put the number at approximately 70 million), on a planetary level. From those who build aircraft, or seats and outfitting, to those who produce equipment so the aircraft can fly, to those who supply every single semi-finished product or raw material used in the production processes of the sector, to those who support the global or continental market thanks to the capacity and speed of air transport.

It is in that chain, that those who build propulsion systems or engine components essential to fly an aircraft of any type safely and efficiently can be found, right at the top. Whether they are passenger planes, cargo aircraft, military aircraft or helicopters, Avio Aero's products, the design of the systems and technical assistance or maintenance, are essential in order to allow the aircraft to fly and carry out its duty. Whatever the current crisis: every transmission, turbine, combustor and engine assembly that we have been able to design and produce for over a century must be fully operational.

Brindisi - worker with a-T700 turboshaft engine

"Historically, during certain shocks, aviation itself has been able to raise the fortunes of adjacent sectors, this is because of its ability to connect the world and generate value"

The difficult situation in which airlines find themselves does not exhaust the effects of the Coronavirus, but neither does it fully highlight them: "out of 120 airlines worldwide, in ordinary times, only about 30 generate revenues that make a profit" explains Alfredo Marin, VP Program Management & Customer Support. "This is because fixed costs (crews, fuel, airport hubs, customer services) are already generally high for operators, and when they operate on a global scale the costs increase exponentially". 

This is certainly not the first time that there have been crises, or even that airlines have folded, whether a result of traumatic or destabilizing international events (Cold War, terrorism, continental epidemics, global financial crises) or due to cyclical economic causes. "Looking back, we can find perfect examples: just think of Panam that started its downfall with the oil crisis in the 70s. But we must also remember that historically, during certain shocks, aviation itself has been able to raise the fortunes of adjacent sectors" says Pierfederico Scarpa, VP Marketing & Sales of Avio Aero. "Precisely because of its ability to connect the world and generate value". 

In such a scenario, there is still a central player: the defense aviation. Indeed, Avio Aero is a partner of the Italian Air Force, providing components and modules, but also technical and logistical assistance for the engines. Furthermore, since the international scope of the aeronautics industry is complemented by a level of technology unparalleled in other sectors, Avio Aero or GE Aviation products are also essential for the air forces of many other countries around the world. European, American, Asian, African countries, where hundreds of millions of people live and whose air force is entrusted not only with ordinary defense, but (especially in these times) with survival and rescue.

EJ200 EFA engine test at Brindisi

So the issue, or rather the impact of the sector, reaches the national governments level and fits in a macroeconomic framework: this is why the President of the European Commission referred to the aviation industry as a whole (the aforementioned supply chain) during his first statement regarding the emergency. And that is why again Von der Leyen newly announced the mobilization of 2.770 billion euros for EU member states to answer the crisis, likewise it happened overseas with the injection of 2 trillion dollars.

The world is facing an unprecedented pandemic, and this means that it is suffering from a pathology. Once a therapy has been found (now applied everywhere according to the intensity of the pathological stage), we must wait for it to progress. That is what science tells us, and the production system must equip itself, in a coordinated manner, and deploy all the necessary resources to face a period of "convalescence" so it can recover with new antibodies. It is a matter of time, just like the recovery from any sickness.

Cover image: Alessandro Bonotti at Cameri preparing an EBM A2X machine, ph. credits GE Additive. 

AUTHOR

Yari Bovalino