Covid-19 Has Elevated Aviation Safety to New Heights, Says Industry Leader

Aviation remains the safest way to travel – and, it’s safer today than it has ever been before, according to alumnus Peter Cerdá (’01), regional vice president in the Americas for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association for the world’s airlines, which also helps build industry policy.

“Since March, only 40 cases out of 1.2 billion passengers have shown (Covid-19) transmission directly from a flight,” he said. “(Flying) is safer today than any time in our history. … The big challenge is getting airplanes into the air.”

Cerdá brought welcome optimism to Embry-Riddle during a recent Aviation Outlook webinar – despite the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries have closed their borders, leading to a 90% decline in international traffic compared to the same time last year, he acknowledged. Quarantine requirements have kept many consumers from air travel altogether, opting instead for virtual business meetings, road trips and deferred vacations. So far in 2020, 40 airlines worldwide have ceased operations amid the downturn in traffic.

The next free and interactive Aviation Outlook event will feature Ted Christie, president and CEO of Spirit Airlines, who will discuss the disruptive air carrier that pioneered ultra-low budget travel. Register now to reserve a virtual seat at the event.

Aviation industry leaders are stepping up to the new challenges, Cerdá noted. In addition to mask requirements, increased touchless check-in options and enhanced safety protocols at airports, Cerdá said, airlines have also come together to adopt stricter plane-cleaning measures across the industry, reduced in-flight food service and altered baggage practices.

“It’s a totally different and radical change — but a change that was needed,” he said. “We will not be a vector of transmission for the virus.”

In spite of those radical changes to the travel experience, Cerdá stressed that these “bio-safety” improvements mark only a first step. Next, the aviation industry will need to convince governments around the world that these measures have been effective, through data. After that, it will need to convince passengers — a task, he believes, is dependent on improved testing.

“We see testing as an alternative to remove quarantine (requirements),” he said. “IATA is advocating to governments all around the world to ensure that testing is reliable, but also fast. It needs to be fast. It needs to be accurate. … It needs to be affordable … and it has to be scalable.”

That sort of advanced testing technology would remove the threat of in-flight Covid-19 transmission almost entirely, Cerdá added — and just as important for carriers and consumers alike, it would remove the need for a passenger to quarantine after arriving at his or her destination. 

“Without a safety environment, without a safe industry, you have no industry,” he said. “But with the right confidence, people are going to want to travel.”

Sponsored by the deans of Embry-Riddle’s College of Aviation, the free and interactive Aviation Outlook webinar series hosted Cerdá as its 11th guest. The ongoing series features leaders throughout the industry who offer insights on their careers, as well as on the future of aviation.

That future, it’s important to remember, Cerdá said, is not only built on passenger travel. The movement of goods also plays a key role.

“Last year, the industry crossed an important threshold: We connected over 22,000 city pairs across the world,” he said. “Never before in the history of aviation have we been better connected.”

This year, however, that number decreased to 16,000 city points.

“That means that about 6,000 cities, at this point, do not have connection,” he said.

That decrease impacts commerce, but it will also affect how Covid-19 vaccines are eventually transported and distributed — a task Cerdá called “one of the most important missions that aviation has ever had.”

Still, he remains optimistic about the future. Aviation’s resiliency is well documented throughout history, he said, and a rebound is not a matter of if, but when.

“Aviation is part of the backbone of many parts of our economies across the world, and our well-being around the world,” he said. “People depend on aviation. … It is an industry that continues to evolve … and the pandemic has forced us to evolve quicker.”

Additionally, orchestrating complex logistics remains a hallmark of those drawn to work in the field.

People depend on aviation. … It is an industry that continues to evolve … and the pandemic has forced us to evolve quicker.
Peter Cerda (’01), regional vice president in the Americas for the International Air Transport Association (IATA)

“We have had to overcome so many different other challenges and crises in the past. We’ve had to reinvent ourselves and re-innovate ourselves as an industry, and I have no doubt we will be able to do that again,” Cerdá said. “It just might take awhile.”

Dr. Alan Stolzer, dean of the College of Aviation on Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus, agreed. The 2020 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook projects that 763,000 new civil aviation pilots and 739,000 new maintenance technicians will be needed to fly and maintain the global fleet of aircraft over the next 20 years, assuming that air traffic recovers to 2019 levels within the next few years, he noted.

“The demand for highly qualified aviation professionals, based on where it was pre-pandemic, will still be there once the health and economic crisis is over,” Stolzer said. “The demand for pilots and aviation maintenance professionals may even be heightened, given early retirements and openings that resulted when furloughed personnel moved into government, business and general aviation amid the pandemic.”

Stolzer added that the general business aviation sector is doing well, and even when aircraft are in storage, they still must be maintained by skilled aviation maintenance professionals.

Dr. Kenneth Witcher, dean of the College of Aeronautics for Embry-Riddle Worldwide, said further that “even now, some original equipment manufacturers for the Department of Defense (DoD), such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, have not seen a reduction in need for talent. In fact, Northrop Grumman has hired over 1,300 technicians since the beginning of the 2020 and still has a strong need for qualified candidates — specifically, professionals who have DoD secret clearances.”

To learn more about the efforts the aviation industry has made to prioritize health and safety, Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus will host a free “Safe to Fly” Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), later this month. A registration link will soon be available.

The Oct. 21 webinar featuring Peter Cerdá is available for playback online. For recaps on prior guests, visit the Aviation Outlook website.

Posted In: Aviation