Where We Are Right Now

We can’t just not talk about it. The elephant in the room as they say. The thing that impacts every move you make but no one talks about because it is too painful. That is where we are right now. No matter what your beliefs or stand on masks and public health, we are in the middle of a health crisis that is impacting aviation to the highest degree since its inception as a market sector.

So what is happening? As of this writing, there had been 31 million cases of COVID-19 in the world. The epicenter of the outbreak is the United States where there are a reported 6.8 million cases and 200,000 deaths resulting from COVID-19. India and Brazil are both not far behind. There are still travel restrictions in place between numerous countries and confidence in flying remains low, in spite of a recent uptick in travel.

We have had some government assistance to get airlines through the roughest part of the travel stoppage. Some airlines are ready for another influx of money from the government to get them over the hump — the initial round is over as of October 1. Delta might be the outlier among airlines saying that they will not take the next round of Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money, instead preferring to utilize their own SkyMiles credit card funds to keep from needing the CARES money. Delta says the new credit facility will “provide gross proceeds of $9.0 billion” to assist them through this prolonged downturn.

All of the airlines are trying numerous strategies to ameliorate the situation such as new cleaning processes, keeping middle seats empty and adjusting workforce by offering leaves of absence and early retirement packages, making historic capacity cuts, parking or retiring older aircraft (and, in some cases, entire fleet types), utilizing passenger planes on cargo-only missions, either belly-only or belly and main cabin says Airlines for America. And Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian says they are “leveraging our MRO business and partnerships with Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce to secure TechOps employment.”

All the airlines are utilizing new cabin cleaning methods to ensure aircraft in their fleet remain sanitary and COVID-free. For example, United Airlines added Zoono Microbe Shield, an EPA registered antimicrobial coating that forms a long-lasting bond with surfaces and inhibits the growth of microbes, to the airline’s already rigorous safety and cleaning procedures.

But the simple fact remains that capacity is too great for demand right now and for the near future. “Global airline flights slid last week which appears to be based on airlines dialing back schedules post-summer as a result of limited demand for travel. I believe we’ll see airline flights hover in this range for a while as demand grows,” says Daniel Baker, CEO, FlightAware.

Airlines for America says for U.S. airlines, passenger volumes remain 65 percent below last year at this time and that the average number of passengers per flight for the week ending September 13 was 69.

For its part, IATA is relaying a message of hopeful realism and calling for the systematic testing of all international travelers before departure. “This should enable governments to safely open borders without quarantine. And it will provide passengers with the certainty that they can travel without having to worry about a last-minute change in government rules that could spoil their plans,” IATA CEO, Alexandre De Juniac, stressed at the IATA media briefing on September 22, 2020. China’s air travel is rebounding faster since they have seemingly gotten the virus under control. European air travel experienced an uptick in June when some borders were reopened, but generally, load factors remain at record lows there, too.

Richard Brown, managing director of consultancy firm Naveo says 38 percent of the air transport fleet is parked or in storage as of mid-September. “While international travel outside of Europe is severely limited, something of the summer holiday season appears to have been salvaged though it feels like a case of two steps forward, one-step- back as cases rise again, localized lockdowns are enforced, and travel restrictions are imposed [again],” Brown says in his latest report: “Air Transport Fleet & MRO Trends.” Brown adds for MRO specifically, “Pre-COVID 2020 MRO spend was expected to be approximately $91B. Instead, due to COVID-19 2020 MRO spend is forecasted to be around 45 percent lower at approximately $50B.” Learn from more from Brown at naveo.com.

All of this to say, aviation has a long way to go before things are going to be OK. As we have mentioned before, the impact of this black swan event is far worse than the terrorist attacks in the U. S. on 9/11 or the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Still, I am hopeful.

In any case, please enjoy this issue of Aviation Maintenance.Our cover story is focused on how engine OEMs and MROs are helping their clients get through this challenging time. We spoke with all the major engine OEMs, as well as several MROs who do engine work, to see how they are responding and helping.

Non-destructive testing and inspections are always fascinating topics — testing or inspecting an aircraft part without doing any harm to it and returning it to service is science and art. We spoke to FAA and test equipment manufacturer TESTIA to learn more.

We also have another installment of our series “On Guard,” written by former NTSB and FAA accident expert, Jeff Guzzetti. He takes a deeper dive into the Lion Air 737 MAX accident. Of course we all know now about the MCAS problem, but there is always more to the story. Guzzetti shows where the maintenance team was lacking.

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