The aviation industry's role in suppressing COVID-19

Aviation Updates Philippines – The global aviation sector is severely affected by COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen several airlines which have significantly bled cash and eventually collapsed due to the falling travel demand.
WELCOME HOME. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) organized a series of repatriation flights for Filipinos since the enforcement of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon. Photo from DFA
Numerous travel bans and restrictions are imposed by different countries. Because of these hefty restrictions, it has caused a downturn in the global economy, including in the Philippine context. The demand for flights has sunk the lowest since the September 11 bombing in 2001.

Most of the airlines, in turn, are operating only skeletal routes or have grounded their entire fleet. Many passenger airlines are seeing money disappear quickly and, therefore, looking for both short and long-term solutions to veer away from bankruptcy.

Several airlines are sticking to cargo-only flights as a way to keep their aircraft flying, and to at least make money and help their homeland. Our flag carrier, Philippine Airlines, operates cargo-only flights to transport essential goods and medical supplies across the Philippines. Cebu Pacific, on the other hand, also continued to operate cargo-only flights.

The operation of cargo-only flights aboard mainline passenger aircraft seems to be the new trend amid the crisis. Some international carriers are doing the same: Air New Zealand, Delta Airlines, and Turkish Airlines. In fact, Air Canada, among other airlines, temporarily converted three of its Boeing 777-300ER to serve as a freighter-dedicated aircraft.

Aside from transporting cargo, global airlines are also offering chartered, rescue, and sweeper flights as a way to help the government in repatriating its nationals and overseas workers.

In February, the Philippine government chartered an Airbus A320 aircraft from Royal Air Philippines in a repatriation mission from Wuhan, China. We have also seen rescue flights of Philippine Airlines to London and Canada, in coordination with their respective embassies. Meanwhile, AirSWIFT Airlines, which operates a fleet of ATR 72-500 and 42-500 aircraft, was tapped by the French Embassy to conduct sweeper flights from key cities in the Philippines.
REPATRIATION FLIGHT. Government officials wave Philippine flags as a Royal Air Philippines chartered flight from Wuhan, China arrived in Clark. Photo from DFA
Over the past few days, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) witnessed the back-to-back arrival of unscheduled flights from LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Delta Airlines, and Qatar Airways. Embassies from across the world spearheaded the repatriation of their citizens via these airlines in Manila.

In times of global pandemics, we see travel demands fall, but it doesn't mean the airlines will stop operating. They look for solutions and workarounds not only for the sake of business but for the sake of humanity. Our aviation frontliners have fervently stayed on their calls of duty to keep our airports running.

The aviation industry has played a significant role in supporting the health care system in the Philippines. Without these air carriers, it would have taken days and weeks to transport swab samples, essential medical cargo, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for those who need them the most. For the regular Filipino citizens who are asked to stay at home, an appreciation for our frontline workers would be a thing to do. Not only do these airlines serve for their gains, but also for the future of the Filipino people.