By Airhihen Ekelem
Preventing accidents and keeping people and property safe is the key role of Safety Management System in aviation. It involves having an understanding of risks and what could go wrong. It also entails appreciating how bad things can be if they go wrong as well as the likelihood of occurrence. In carrying out an assessment of these risks a proper identification of most significant risks is of utmost importance.
The next step would be to prioritise these risks. The risks organisations face are many. The resources available are limited. This presents policy choices for the organisation to either accept them (i.e., do nothing) or take further action to reduce the risks to an acceptable level by risk mitigation or controls over risks.
These mitigations may also be considered to be barriers and defences to the organisation. The barriers and defences we put in place should significantly reduce the likelihood of an event occurring. Reducing severity when a risk occurs is much harder because it will entail applying additional safety devices. An example is in the use of safety belts.
Covid-19 has airport executives living through the most challenging times in their business lifetimes. A lot has changed and there is need to think out new strategy. This will involve new ways of operating and new ways of surviving.
A scan of the environment and trying to understand where the customer stands will call up some issues: Shut downs of economic activity have put consumer finances under pressure as a result of uncertainty and unemployment. Those privileged to still remain in employment are likely to have more people to support who have lost out in the job market. Despite the violations of various health measures usually by those from low income households, the middle and upper income households are well informed, conscious of health risks and are likely to have known someone who has contacted the corona virus. These are the groups from where African air travel passengers come from – middle to high income households.
Various health measures put in place at airports could be a source of stress to some customers. There have been reports of some very important personalities violating these new measures namely, face masks, social distancing, temperature checks, sanitizing hands and lugagges as well as queuing.
Efforts are being made to digitize the customer journey and so reduce the human interactions that are a health concern. But there are risks of going online. This therefore calls up the need to step up efforts in cybersecurity. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is quoted in the Airport Cybersecurity Report by PA Consulting (paconsulting.com) as saying that there are 1000 cybersecurity attacks on aviation systems each month.
All these point to the need for airports to reimagine the customer experience. Safety in this Covid-19 era is the new customer experience. Now what should be done?
Reassure customers: Air travellers and visitors need reassurance that their concerns are addressed. Cleanliness in an airport is very germane. This is a source of customer confidence. Customers should be encouraged to wear masks. Free masks can be made available where customers do not have. All members of the airport community should wear masks. Clear signs are important. They reduce apprehension over infractions the customer may not be aware of while at the same time make the customer journey easier. Same applies to floor markings that encourage social distancing.
Ensure improved digitization and cybersecurity: Improving digitization will ensure that there are more options for contactless services that include boarding, payments among others. Retail services can also be seen online with fast service for click – and collect. The online customer journey should not leave the customer more confused. Cybersecurity should be enhanced to ensure a continued positive customer experience.
Think of new ways to serve customers: The fall out of Covid-19 is that businesses will now think of new ways to serve customers. The industry is restarting after shut downs. Corporate clients for instance have found virtual meetings a solution. Hubs are gradually being challenged by point- to – point services. Customer preferences and passenger personas will need to be revisited to enable understanding of the customers and how they can be best served.
Be flexible: As airports gradually restart, customer needs will be varied. Airports should position themselves to meet these needs of different customers, faster, better and more cost effectively. Performance measurement indices are not likely to be same as aviation recovers slowly. Unrealistic performance standards will dampen morale of managers who are already finding it tough and challenging coping with recovery.
So going forward, safety will be a top priority in the industry even beyond recovery. It is now uppermost in the minds of passengers and all members of the airport community.
EKELEM AIRHIHEN IS A CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT AND AIRPORT CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE SPECIALIST. HE CAN BE REACHED ON email@example.com