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The Implications of the Coronavirus for the Aviation Industry

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

A Wikistrat interview with Professor Peter Haanappel, a Senior Consultant in Law and Policy of Air Space

Can we already see actions where the aviation industry is trying to reduce the impact of the coronavirus? What actions? In what way?

Action in the aviation (air transport) industry is basically aimed at preventing the (rapid) spread of viral diseases, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19), especially when there is no (easy) cure for such diseases. Airports and aircraft are crowded environments through which viruses may spread around the world, thereby causing global (human and economic) crises.

Air transport itself is a victim of a globalizing viral infection crisis in the sense that the public's demand for air transport services decreases during such a crisis. Carriers then have to decrease available capacity (frequency of services) or suspend services. Figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) state that, at a global level, the SARS epidemic of the year 2003 caused a rapid decrease in worldwide capacity of about 5% for about half a year, with a rapid recovery thereafter. The IATA suggests that this might happen again now globally, but that the regional impact in the Asia-Pacific market might be as high as 13%. Within China, on domestic air services, the decrease might even be much higher than that.

What lessons should the aviation industry learn from the coronavirus outbreak and its impact? What lessons has it already learned?

The aviation (air transport) industry does not create coronaviruses. It can, however, spread them. So, it can only act responsively, by preventive and repressive action: denied boarding of passengers/goods and isolation/quarantine upon arrival.

To the extent that service suppliers (airlines, airports, others) are privatized and listed on stock exchanges and to the extent permitted by antitrust/competition law, the industry might try to reduce its losses, not only those caused by reduced capacity but also those caused by their corporate structures.

What kind of changes do you think we can expect to see in the field of aviation following the impact of the coronavirus on the industry? What adaptions, if any, will the industry have to make?

Aviation medicine has been around for decades. Its visibility has been reduced through the disappearance/reduction of more traditional infectious diseases such as yellow fever, cholera, and malaria. SARS, MERS (2012), and now COVID-19 prove, it seems, that greater coordination is required between authorities, the principal ones of which are the World Health Organization (WHO), International Health Regulations; the aforementioned IATA, Medical Advisory Group; the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Manual of Civil Aviation Medicine; the Red Cross; the Airports Council International (ACI); and the always omnipotent national authorities. Co-ordination should be facilitated by the fact that all international organizations mentioned are based in Geneva, Montreal, or both. In Europe, closer cooperation is especially urgent because of the multitude of states and the large size of the air transport market, plus the fact that the individual states, and not the EU, have final authority in the matter.

In the long run, the full civil aviation community should look at ways and means to make the physical environment of airports and aircraft technically/medically safer for passengers and shippers.


Professor Peter Haanappel has more than 45 years’ experience in the law and policy of air space. Among other roles, Prof. Haanappel was a Professor of Air and Space Law at the Faculty of Law of Leiden University (currently an Emeritus Professor), an Adjunct Professor of Law at McGill University, a member of the Editorial Board of the Annals of Air and Space Law (McGill University) and a member of the Editorial Board of the Zeitschrift für Luft- und Weltraumrecht (German Journal of Air and Space Law, University of Cologne). He is on the list of aviation legislation experts of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). He was also an Associate Legal Adviser at CAAi (UK), and a member of the International Foundation for Public Aviation (IFPA).


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