Aviation’s Post-Crisis Recovery Series: Zurich Airport
In the next instalment of International Airport Review’s exclusive series, Stefan Tschudin, Head of Aviation and Chief Operation Officer at Flughafen Zürich AG, explains the impact of the pandemic on the airport and how the return of reliable, predictable travel is key in restoring passenger confidence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been completely unprecedented in its impact on the aviation industry. How has it impacted Zurich Airport?
At Zurich Airport (ZRH), we have been strongly affected by the pandemic. The airport saw passenger numbers plummet by 75 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. Currently, passenger volume remains at 11-15 per cent. Similarly, revenues also plummeted massively in 2020, especially in the flight operations business. Commerce also had to accept painful revenue losses as a result of the pandemic; this resulted in a net loss for the group of almost CHF 70 million.
What immediate changes did you have to make in response to the pandemic, and what did you find the hardest problem to tackle?
We took measures to preserve liquidity. We implemented various cost-cutting measures, including furloughs for the entire company, a hiring freeze and a review of all of our investment projects. We postponed some capacity-driven projects by several years. We also borrowed money on the capital markets. Operationally, the constantly changing travel conditions were, and are, a major challenge.
What initiatives are you focusing on during 2021 to rebuild passenger confidence?
We have comprehensive hygiene and safety measures at Zurich Airport, which include frequent cleaning, UV-sanitised escalator handrails, mandatory masks, protective screens for employees, etc. We are also educating passengers about the importance of protecting themselves. We use announcements, posters and passenger flow managers to draw passengers’ attention to the need to comply with hygiene and distancing rules. We are working closely with the authorities and airport partners to ensure that international travel is predictable, reliable and safe again in summer 2021.
What other exciting projects/developments are in the pipeline at Zurich Airport to help cope with increased passenger numbers once air travel begins to pick-up again?
In the coming years, the ageing Dock A and the airport tower will be replaced. This project is necessitated by the lifecycle of the buildings and, therefore, cannot be postponed at will. The shell of the new baggage sorting facility is already under construction. This will be completed on schedule in the next few years.
Are there any initiatives that you have implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic that you will permanently integrate into your airport’s strategy, even once the crisis has passed?
Certain things, such as sanitiser dispensers or the built-in UV lights for cleaning the escalator handrails, will remain in place even after the coronavirus crisis. We also optimised operating procedures during the crisis, which will remain in place.
What business activity are you forecasting for Zurich Airport/ what is your business outlook?
It is currently difficult to make a reliable forecast. For the aviation industry, it is of great importance that travel becomes predictable again. That is why we are asking politicians to make travel possible without entry restrictions or quarantine regulations for people who have been vaccinated against, recovered from or tested positive for coronavirus. We are confident that passengers will then also return; the international network of business and society has not changed as a result of the pandemic, and the resulting need to travel will continue.
Stefan Tschudin has been Head of Aviation and Chief Operation Officer (COO) at Flughafen Zürich AG since October 2017. He holds responsibility for all aviation-related matters at Flughafen Zürich AG and is also Accountable Manager for flight operations. A Swiss citizen born in 1968, he was formerly a commercial airline pilot and joined the aviation division of Flughafen Zürich AG in 2007.