Alex Macheras is an aviation analyst, broadcasting and discussing the world’s aviation news across international networks including BBC, Al Jazeera and LBC. With a focus on the commercial airline side of the industry, Alex keeps viewers and listeners up to date with the latest updates from across the airline world, the challenges facing the industry, plus exclusive sit-down discussions aviation’s most prominent executives.
Alex also focuses on the delivery and entry-into-service of new jets, and recently starred as the lead in a Channel 4 special “The World’s Most Luxurious Airline” taking viewers the behind-the-scenes world of an exclusive A380 delivery for Singapore Airlines.
He’s the editor of aviationanalyst.co.uk, and a columnist for the Gulf-Times, one of the region’s leading newspapers based in the heart of Middle Eastern aviation gateway.
We are going through the worse ever crisis in aviation. What are you concerned about for the industry?
It’s truly extraordinary what has happened to our industry in such a short amount of time. Early in the year we had tensions between the US and Iran (in Iraq) when airspace over these two huge countries for overflight were declared off-limits for many airlines. The B737 MAX was fast-approaching almost a year of grounding over safety concerns.
Yet here we are, just a couple of months later and all of those troubles facing aviation seem minuscule compared with the crisis we face today. There are not enough airline cash reserves in the world for a pandemic of this scale. Never before have we seen the world effectively put itself into ‘sleep mode’ with travel bans, restrictions, lockdowns and curfews.
I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to following, collecting data and tracking the worldwide aviation response to this pandemic, particularly its impact on airlines. A key focus area I’m broadcasting on now is how government support is proving to be vital if any airline is going to survive - no matter what its financial health was before COVID-19.
Describe a typical day and where are you reporting from?
Currently, I’m centrally located in Doha, Qatar, time zone GMT+3, and a ‘sweet spot’ time for covering all developments across Asia in the morning hours, transitioning to European and Africa developments in the middle of the day, before news starts to emerge from The Americas by early evening, Doha time. I’m working from home and have been under a strict “stay at home” lockdown since mid-March. This week is the sixth week of not stepping outside into public life.
The majority of my daily tv or radio broadcasts are from my ‘home studio’ - morning shows across BBC networks, and lengthier, insightful pieces for Al Jazeera. The impact of COVID-19 on aviation is incredibly fast-moving, fast-changing. By the time I submit a newspaper column on a Tuesday, 50% is no longer up to date, by the time it appears on the Thursday.
Which countries and which airlines do you believe will recover first?
COVID-19 is having a destructive effect on the entire travel industry, and the sector will surely be a significantly smaller one when we are out of this. Forward bookings are far outweighed by cancellations, and there is a lack of harmonisation across the world in governments to air travel. Some 2.7 million airline jobs will be at risk if more governments are not willing to get behind their airlines. For this reason, state-owned airlines are likely to fare better at this difficult time.
New Zealand’s government was quick to announce an NZ$900 million (US$580 million) loan facility to Air New Zealand, as well as an additional NZ$600 million relief package for the wider aviation sector. Singapore’s government introduced a scheme to pay 75% of aviation industry employee salaries, inject fresh capital to the national airline group, and keep airport expansion projects continuing, a move praised by IATA.
Economic disparities between countries, and a difference in their priorities as they grapple COVID-19, have already created an unlevel playing field for the airlines. While nations like Australia, Singapore, Finland, Hong Kong have already allocated financial aid to save their aviation industries, it’s becoming clear that not all countries will. As a result we’ll witness a lot of airline casualties. As I write this, the futures of Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, South African Airways, and Norwegian Air are hanging in the balance, awaiting government decisions which will ultimately determine whether they’re part of our flying future once we are on the other side of COVID-19.
In our first issue of Resilient Aviation we heard that business aviation will be the quickest to recover. Could the bizav sector lend a hand to airlines on the rebound?
I believe what we’re (still) discovering is that nothing is off of the table following this pandemic. A potential collaboration between the commercial airline sector and business aviation, in terms of exploring the utilisation of smaller aircraft, or offering new ways to adapt to a different type of business travel demand, could be something for the industry to start thinking about.
Business aviation is arguably far more attractive than it has ever been in history, given the isolated, safe nature of private jet cabins. It’s unsurprising that it’s expected to be the fastest area of the aviation industry to bounce back. The industry, generally, is showing its resilience. This pandemic has proven, as aviation always does in a crisis, just how vital air travel is.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves are reaching remote areas of the world, ensuring no country is left behind in this global fight against COVID-19. Airline cabins and private jets are being converted into cargo holds to increase capacity on flights carrying essential aid, pharmaceuticals, and medical tools.
What are you most looking forward to when the rebound comes?
Appreciating the magic and beauty of the first sunrise or sunset from 38,000ft!
In the meantime, I have immense gratitude to those on the front line. From doctors and nurses to supermarket workers and cargo pilots. This is an anxious time for everyone, and just like everyone else, I long for the day when it’s safe to be outside, to board an aircraft, to travel again, and to be together again.
BlueSky Business Aviation News | 23rd April 2020 | Issue #554
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