A Glimmer of Light Ahead for the Aviation Industry

By Robert Mark on November 23rd, 2020

Boeing 737 MAX 7

For the thousands of us who call the aviation industry home, 2020 turned out to be a year we’ll be glad to see the end of although the change of calendars won’t wipe away many of this year’s problems. The highly-contagious coronavirus wreaking havoc on our planet stuck its ugly tentacles into nearly every aspect of life on Earth this year. The result has been people fleeing airline travel and anything related in unprecedented numbers. Airlines around the globe reacted by parking thousands of airplanes and furloughing employees as demand dropped to rock bottom levels. Thousands of others lost their jobs as commercial aircraft production nearly ground to a halt with the fallout moving downstream tearing the hearts out of many industry suppliers as it went. And all this in addition to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max back in March of 2019.

The much hoped-for follow-on aid from the US government recommended by economists on both sides of the aisle never materialized once paycheck protection funding ran out. Except for the stock market, the US economy sank into the worst recession since the Great Depression with food banks overwhelmed by the millions of other Americans out of work. Congress, at each other’s throats most of this year failed to be of much help. First-line health care workers, noble enough to risk their lives to help back in March, are now exhausted with no relief in sight.

Within a few months of the virus’ emergence, the commercial airlines made their best efforts to trim transmission by demanding everyone who did fly should wear a mask. The FAA decided such a rule was beyond the scope of their mandate. Interestingly hundreds of people have been permanently banned from some US airlines for refusing to don a mask claiming their right to personal freedom trumped any airline or public health demands.

Business and general aviation picked up some of the travel slack this year as people wealthy enough to use private aviation switched to a sector where they had better control over the potential transmission of a virus that is currently killing between 1,500 and 2,000 Americans each and every day. But without a permanent solution, like a vaccine, or something to absolutely convince people it’s once again safe to climb onboard a commercial airplane, the airlines and the rest of the industry are expected to spend years digging their way out of the billions of dollars in losses they’ve already experienced.

Help on the Way

WHO photo

Groundbreaking news surfaced over the past few weeks that might offer hope to this and many other travel-related industries with the announcement of two vaccines that are nearly ready to begin wrestling the virus to its knees. Thanks to the help of the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, Moderna created a vaccine they claim is 95 percent effective in preventing the coronavirus. Pfizer has also unveiled a new coronavirus vaccine.

While this is great news, it doesn’t mean we’ll soon be back to hopping on an airliner for a week in the Caribbean. Even working around the clock, the vaccine production facilities can only crank out so much product in a day meaning initial doses won’t be available in significant numbers before the end of the year. Then there’s the time delay to transport vaccines to the millions who need it. Since there’s been no plan from the federal government on much of the work ahead, it’s unclear how the initial doses will be handed out. Some believe the elderly and hospital first responders should be first in line, but again, guidance varies from community to community. The Centers for Disease Control says the nation needs about 70-75 percent of the nation vaccinated in order for the vaccines to be truly effective.

There are additional logistical hurdles to transporting these vaccines too. Pfizer’s for example requires temperature-controlled facilities able to store products at 30 to 40 degrees below zero. These probably exist in some urban areas, but in smaller towns, not so much. Moderna’s vaccine doesn’t appear to be quite so temperature sensitive. The CDC estimates it could be mid-to-late 2021 before everyone who wants a dose will be able to receive one but at least the existence of the vaccines represents a huge step in the right direction.

Another problem with the lack of a federal plan is the US will continue losing a thousand or two Americans each day. The current loss stands at about 256,000 dead. Of course, we haven’t spoken to the huge segment of the population who refuse to wear a mask under any circumstances believing the virus itself is a hoax, simply a political tactic created to make President Trump look bad.

Also certain to slow the return of air travel to anything resembling normal are the thousands of passionate Americans who believe injections of any kind are fraught with more hazards than they’re worth. These people aren’t just turning their collective noses up at Pfizer’s and Moderna’s latest discovery, they don’t believe in vaccinating themselves or members of the family against anything … polio, measles, chickenpox, or even the common flu. While it’s their right to refuse, this issue creates a huge public health issue for a nation trying to make its way to that 75 percent vaccination number. Without some kind of nationwide immunity, chances are slim mask-wearing aboard aircraft will disappear anytime soon. Many Americans will simply sit tight until there’s an assurance that the risks of airline travel have significantly declined.

A Change in Washington

The US Presidential election was held a few weeks ago to decide if Donald Trump would win a second term or be required to hand over the reins of government on January 20 to Joe Biden to become the 46th President of the United States.

Despite a number of claims of voter fraud and numerous legal challenges by Mr. Trump’s defense team that have been turned back by the courts, again and again, Joe Biden won the election with more than 6 million popular votes, as well as the vast majority of the necessary electoral votes to be named President.

Joe Biden taking the oath of office on January 20, 2021, may mean some good news for the aviation industry, although, like the vaccines, Biden’s plans will take time to have any effect. Mr. Trump’s strategy to see America through the coronavirus translated into the President putting all his faith in the long-term benefits of anti-viral vaccines while ignoring the simple short-term tactics like emphasizing the wearing of masks, social distancing, and keeping gathering groups of people small.

President-Elect Biden plans a two-fold approach to the coronavirus chaos that will include planning on the long-term benefit of the vaccines AND the use of the more simple fixes such as wearing masks. The use of both of these tactics and those yet to be implemented can’t come a moment too soon if we’re going to slow the rates of infection that have exploded all over the country. Hospitals all over the country are also nearly full of the sick and first responders are exhausted from nearly nine months of non-stop work with no end in sight.

The Work Ahead

Campaigning during the 2020 presidential election highlighted two completely different perspectives on pretty much the same facts, except it became clear early on that either we weren’t all looking at the same facts, or some people interpreted what they saw and heard much differently.

And while Americans on both sides of the aisle cringe whenever they hear the phrase, “work together,” it’s the only strategy that will cut the heart out of the coronavirus, in addition of course to the use of vaccines, masks, and social distancing. None of this will work if we remain firmly planted in the us vs. them camps we’ve seen the past decade. If people don’t do their part to help as we’ve always done in the past when we’ve faced a major crisis we’ll easily see nearly a half-million Americans die between now and next spring.

By next summer, we hope the vaccines and a new administration in Washington will be on their way to overcoming the virus. Once Americans begin to see the risks and the number of deaths decline from the use of all these tactics, we’ll also be on the way to a significant, lasting improvement in air travel.

Rob Mark, Publisher

This story was edited on November 23rd at 8 p.m. CST.

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7 Responses to “A Glimmer of Light Ahead for the Aviation Industry”

  1. Joseph M Bellino Says:

    My Friend, your article knocked it out of the park again. Thank You for being there in these trying times.

  2. Molly McMillin Says:

    Rob

    Your comments about some people not stepping up to take the vaccine reminds me of a comment made by someone I was introduced to recently.

    She is not taking the vaccine because a microchip will be implanted at the same time and the government will be able to track her, she says.

    My curiosity on what could be behind this idea was high, as you might imagine. Thankfully, there’s plenty of information out there debunking the theory.

  3. Arnie Quast Says:

    Good morning Rob –

    Excellent perspective on the world we are living in not only for airline folks but the rest of the population. Things will take an eventual turn, but it’s still going to take time and cooperation from everyone to stay safe at all costs. United CEO Scott Kirby put out a pre-Thanksgiving message to our employee group that was positive in tone, but warned all of us not to put our guard down with mask compliance, and being vigilant to the current reality of our operation. Despite the vaccines coming out, 2021 will be another rugged year for all of us.

    On a positive note, I have some news to share – I was awarded a B-787 Captain bid at ORD. The recent early outs created 65 B-787 vacancies at ORD. I decided as a career move, I’d take advantage of getting the 787 type rating. Training will most likely take place over the winter months.

    As always, thanks for doing a great job at objectively reporting news in aviation. I hope you and your family have an enjoyable holiday despite the tough times we are all experiencing.

    Best regards,

    Arnie

  4. Dave Higdon Says:

    Good piece, Rob….fingers crossed that the glimmer turns into something with real light for Americans slapped down by this year…

    All my best,

    Dave

  5. Pete Says:

    Thanks, Rob. Very informative and your article framed the most likely course going forward. Fed Wx will be a big part of distribution, especially the temperature sensitive doses. However, some of it took a gratuitous jab at people who “refuse to wear masks in support of President Trump and the hoax angle.” Yes, some people deny it, hell I had to listen to a friend try and convince me that the earth was flat (flat earthers). Did I judge, yes, maybe, but he still has a right to his own personal opinions and beliefs. That’s one of the things that makes this country great. I supported Obama and Biden’s strategy for their pandemic: “do nothing.” Let citizens choose, and apply precautions as they see fit. You have been around longer than I have and I have seen my share of pandemics. I never missed a day of school or work. Could it be surmised that people make choices based on past experience and choose their own mitigation strategies without political motivations? I wish people in the media would stop categorizing and lumping people into categories with the gratuitous condescending judgements. People should be able to act and behave and think freely within the law and morality. There are millions of people in this country that don’t subscribe to the narrative put out by the main stream media and politicians they don’t trust. Look at these AH’s in politics preaching all these restrictions and not following them in their own privileged lives. It will be a long road ahead to recover from this economic devastation and carnage to American lives. Personally, I don’t blame people who would prefer to offer up a giant middle finger to the corrupt (the rules don’t apply to me) politicians along with a loud FO!

  6. Robert Mark Says:

    I agree with you when it comes to people who preach one thing and practice another Pete. But let’s not forget that in any side to these arguments, we’re all only hearing from the vocal fringes. They’re very energetic, but they are just the fringes. As far as the do-nothing strategy from Obama and Biden, you’ll need to educate me. I have no idea what you’re talking about with that one.

    To your other point, yes of course people must be free to exercise their own judgment. The problem is what to do when your right to freedom begins to impinge on my freedom not to be infected with a virus you might be carrying, one you’re able to spread to others because you believe your “freedom to do what you please,” trumps a greater public health issue.

    I don’t have the answer either, but I hope you’ve noticed how much the temperature of many of the fights has dropped since the election. It’s not gone, but plenty of people are beginning to come around to the thought that Mr. Trump lost the election and it’s time to give the next guy his chance at the White House.

    All this said, there is still much talking amongst us to be done over the years ahead.

    And BTW, I’m not that much older than you kid! … :)

    Rob

  7. Robert Mark Says:

    While I appreciate JetWhine, the paragraph about change in Washington and the work ahead, is too political. Please stick to Aviation news and keep politics out of it unless it directly affects Aviation.

    Thanks for your time
    Norman

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