As signs of the coronavirus (COVID-19) first started impacting daily life, global aviation was one of the first industries impacted by industry travel restrictions which has caused severe challenges for commerce and the global economy. H+K’s Marvin Singleton had the opportunity to interview a leading aviation industry expert, who also happens to be his former mentor and boss, T. Allan McArtor.

McArtor had a prestigious career in aviation, including being a decorated combat fighter pilot in Vietnam and pilot with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. For 13 years, he was a member of the senior management team at Federal Express Corp. (now FedEx) and served as FAA Administrator under President Ronald Reagan. He was also CEO of a commercial airline and most recently, Chairman of Airbus Americas.

Q. The pandemic has decimated the commercial airline industry. Are governments worldwide taking the right actions, with loans, grants, payroll subsidies and other measures, to support airlines and their employees now and for the long term?

The government monies allocated to airlines are certainly helpful in the short term, but airlines must reinvent themselves looking to the future. Returning to “high confidence travel” and load factors of pre-virus levels will take years to recover.

Q. After 9/11, the government responded by creating the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and imposing tougher traveler security checks. If you were running the FAA today, what post COVID-19 regulations or actions would you call for airlines and airports, such as requiring mandatory temperature checks in airports or social distancing on cabin seating configurations?

The travel experience will change every bit as much as post-9/11. There will be Point of Care blood prick tests that can screen a passenger in seconds (or minutes). I imagine many screening sites will exist within a given community and outside of the terminal buildings. The results will be barcoded, time stamped, and likely GPS stamped. You will have the results on your iPhone as a QR code. And the CLEAR bio metrics will have the results in your i.d. file. You will have to show that you have been tested within, say, 24 hours of the flight. I like the idea of the QR code, but a screening wrist band similar to a hospital admittance wrist band might be required. We will surrender even more civil liberties than we did after 9/11.

I don’t see cabin seating being adjusted nor removed.

I think the inflight airline magazines are over. Such communication will be digital on your personal device, or on the seat back screen. In addition to the air sick bag, we will see a face mask, and hand cleaner. A plastic disposable bag will be provided for your tissues. The airline will display at the gate when the aircraft interior was last disinfected using electrostatic foggers with non-toxic, non-corrosive disinfectants. These exist today.

Inside and outside the lavatories will be sanitizer dispensers. Food service may only be prepackaged food products (yuk).

By the way, personal testing sites may also be the way to deal with ball parks, concerts, and other large crowd environments.

Q. It took the airline industry several years after 9/11 to return to normal and the new next normal will emerge as entirely different aviation industry. What’s the outlook for commercial and cargo? Do you foresee some air carriers going out of business or further consolidation of carriers?

Air cargo will likely grow and checked bags will compete with cargo…so higher charges. Air travel will eventually return, but forever changed. We will likely see several airline logos disappear. There are 70% of wide bodies on the ground, and 25% of single aisle. Some lessors are going to get hurt as this plays out.

Q. If you were an airline CEO today, what messages would you want the traveling public to hear?

I believe airlines will need to show passengers that they have taken every reasonable care to disinfect aircraft and gate areas. We will see a lot of face masks in the near term. Social distancing is impractical in the travel environment, so passengers will need the assurance that if the person is in the terminal, in the gate area, in the aircraft, behind the news counter…that person has recently been screened.

Q. Innovation has been a continual evolutionary process for airplane manufacturers. To what degree will the current situation impact future design and manufacturing? 

I suspect greater emphasis will be on cabin air circulation and UV light disinfecting. Lavatory designs might change…also galley areas. In addition to air vents over your seat, we may see air intakes to remove “sneeze air” or “cough air.”