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Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies (2023)

Chapter: Chapter 1 - Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27235.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27235.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27235.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27235.
×
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4 Introduction The COVID-19 Pandemic According to the U.S. National Intelligence Council (2021), the first-known clusters of COVID-19 cases appeared in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Initially, Chinese government officials were unaware of the virus. By January 23, 2020, there were 17 deaths and more than 500 people sickened by the virus. As a result, Chinese officials made the strategic decision to close off Wuhan and its population of 11 million citizens, and also place a restricted access pro- tocol on Huanggang, 30 miles to the east, where residents would not be able to leave without special permission. With these restrictions, 18 million people were soon under strict lockdown in China (American Journal of Managed Care, 2021). Concern was expressed by leaders around the world as to the possibility of this contagious virus spreading worldwide. By early February, countries such as the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, and New Zealand implemented restrictions on air travel in an effort to prevent spread of the virus. These efforts were generally unsuccessful in preventing worldwide spread of the virus. On January 21, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. The infected individual had returned from Wuhan, China, on January 15. Several months later, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 disease a pandemic—an epidemic of an infectious disease that has spread across a large region, such as multiple continents or worldwide (National Intelligence Council, 2021). Once COVID-19 was designated a pandemic, it required a global response. On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency. Even though the response to the pandemic was on a global scale, by April 4, 2020, less than 4 months after the initial cluster of COVID-19 cases was discovered in China, the WHO reported more than 1 million cases of COVID-19 confirmed worldwide (American Journal of Managed Care, 2021; WHO, 2020). In addition to federal-level efforts, further efforts to contain the virus and minimize its spread were implemented at the state and local levels. State governors and health departments across the country issued various types of orders and recommendations regarding the status of schools, businesses, and public services. For example, on March 19, 2020, California became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, mandating all residents to stay at home except for those that must report to an essential job or shop for essential needs. In many states, non-essential businesses were required to cease in-person operations for extended periods. Even essential businesses were impacted, requiring strict cleaning, facial covering, and social distancing protocols. Many employers were forced to maintain their business even with employees unable to report to work on-site. Thus, a great experiment began across the country (and world) with employees required to work from home, being quickly outfitted with resources necessary for C H A P T E R 1

Introduction 5   remote work. With technology manufacturers and supply firms also being impacted by employees unable to work due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, obtaining needed equipment to support a remote workforce was not easy. Webcams, for example, were soon in short supply. Worker unavailability (due to positive COVID-19 diagnoses), inability to obtain needed remote work tools (or inability to operate remotely, for businesses like coffee shops), and loss of in-person sales, was the fatal blow to many businesses. Unfortunately, many businesses permanently closed during the pandemic, as they were unable to financially sustain these extended periods of closure on reduced or non-existent sales/revenues (American Journal of Managed Care, 2021). An additional 200,000 businesses closed in the first year of COVID-19 (Simon, 2021). Airports and the Pandemic Airports, however, did not have the option to close their doors during this time. Airports continued to serve users even while many of the metrics related to the business dropped pre- cipitously. For instance, the TSA screened a pandemic low of 87,534 passengers on April 12, 2020, compared to 2,208,688 on that day one year earlier. Annual airline passenger traffic was down 60% system-wide in 2020 compared to annual traffic levels in 2019 (Government Account- ability Office, 2021). Further, passenger traffic in April 2020 was 96% lower than in April 2019 (pre-pandemic). These greatly reduced passenger screening numbers point to less airline activity, which then yields much less aeronautical and non-aeronautical revenue for airports. For example, landing fee revenue, parking revenue, and food and beverage and retail concession revenues all dropped significantly. As explained by Airports Council International (ACI): Air traffic is the lifeblood of the airport business. Practically all aeronautical revenues are a direct function of traffic and include passenger-related charges and aircraft-related charges levied from aircraft operators. As traffic declines, revenues from charges decrease proportionally. Non-aeronautical revenues, which include such streams as retail concessions, duty free, car parking and food and beverage, are also very much linked to passenger traffic and throughput. As airports have little flexibility in operating expenditures but also have capital costs that are largely fixed, the current crisis represents an unprecedented challenge for the airport industry’s financial viability. Compared to the projected baseline, the global airport annual revenue shortfall is projected to be US $83.1 billion in 2021 and an additional US $60.8 billion in 2022. (ACI, 2022, paragraph 17) With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020, the closures, capacity limits, and large-scale mask orders that were characteristic of the previous 10 months shifted to vaccine and testing mandates, as well as specific face-covering rules. Even as new COVID-19 variants, including Delta and Omicron, appeared some states actively resisted restrictions, prohibited or limited mask and vaccine mandates, and allowed businesses to reopen. The response to the later phases of the COVID-19 pandemic varied from state-to-state. As the passenger carriers suffered greatly during the pandemic, the air cargo carriers maintained operations and even increased activity—due in large part to vaccine delivery, as well as various types of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves. E-commerce was also a driver in air cargo activity. In 2020, freight forwarders generated a 4% profit, while air cargo carriers generated a 9% profit. In fact, the only five airlines that reaped profits in 2020—AirBridgeCargo, Atlas Air, Cargojet, Cargolux, and Kalitta—were cargo carriers (McKinsey & Company, 2022). Passenger carriers generally welcomed an April 2022 decision by a federal judge that struck down the CDC mandate of face coverings in public transportation, including airlines. Several U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, Southwest, and United, quickly dropped their mask mandates, making them optional for travelers. As was typical with COVID-related policies, some travelers were ecstatic, while others were very disappointed.

6 Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies By late spring 2022, pandemic-era restrictions were all but gone. After two years of unprec- edented restrictions and serious concern for health and safety, Americans could finally return to some sense of normalcy—just in time for summer 2022. Throughout the March 2020–March 2022 COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. airports had to confront a challenge never before experienced on such a grand scale: Maintain the operational integrity of the airport, even with minimal aircraft operations and passenger activity, with employees who could not work in close contact with one another without experiencing a significantly higher risk of potentially deadly COVID-19 exposure. How would the airport continue business as usual under such conditions? Short answer: It wouldn’t. One thing is clear: airports across the country (and world for that matter) had to confront a new reality. Deciding which employees would be required to perform their tasks in-person at the airport (termed “essential” workers) and which employees could perform their tasks remotely (termed “non-essential” workers). Airports considered the work of “essential” employees to be “operational” in nature, meaning their job functions must be performed on-site at the airport, such as airfield inspections, building and airfield maintenance, and security. “Non-essential” employees had work that was considered “non-operational” in nature, meaning their job functions could be performed off-site, such as finance, marketing, and human resources (HR). It should be noted that “non-essential” does not mean these employees are not needed. It simply meant that it was not essential that these employees performed their necessary job functions at the airport. For those essential workers that would remain at the airport, how could airport manage- ment ensure these employees did not face an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure? For those non-essential employees working remotely (often from home), how could airport management ensure these employees remained productive with adequate oversight, also contributing to support essential airport employees at the airport? What technological tools would be needed to support these two groups of employees? These were not easy questions to answer. Synthesis Overview This synthesis attempts to answer the difficult questions that faced airports as they managed remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a thorough literature review, two online surveys, and phone calls to several airports, this synthesis provides a resource that describes the tasks and missions that airports have been able to accomplish remotely, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report describes the types of work and training options developed by airports to maintain continuity of operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as societal trends toward hybrid and remote work models, specifically efforts by airports to accommodate employees during the pandemic. Challenges experienced by airports during the pandemic are explored, with an emphasis on innovative solutions adopted by airports to continue operations during the pandemic. The report is also forward-looking with an emphasis on remote and hybrid work and training arrangements designed to enhance efficiency and accommodate employee and airport needs moving forward. The remaining chapters of the report will provide the reader with in-depth knowledge of the issues surrounding remote work, including those challenges and benefits specific to airports. Chapter  2: Synthesis Methodology presents the methodology used in the project. Topics include recipients/participants, data collection instruments, survey and interview methodology, and data analysis techniques.

Introduction 7   Chapter 3: Literature Review, presents findings obtained from a thorough review of the literature, aiding the reader in more deeply understanding this issue, including relevant research. Topics include impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizational responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and considerations in supporting a remote workforce. An additional literature review appears in Appendix C. Chapter 4: Survey Results, presents the findings from a survey of airport/HR managers and airport employees. Topics addressed include remote work models, employee productivity, benefits and challenges of remote work, maintaining a work-life balance, and cloud-based technology. Chapter 5: Case Examples, presents seven in-depth case examples of airports, as well as one airport employee case example detailing this individual’s experience with working remotely during the pandemic. Chapter 6: Conclusions and Future Research, provides a summary of key findings of the synthesis, as well as comments on the state of research and opportunities for additional research related to this topic. The following appendices can be found at the end of this synthesis: • Appendix A: Airport Manager/HR Manager Survey • Appendix B: Airport Employee Survey • Appendix C: Additional Literature Review • Appendix D: Remote Work Policy and Agreement Samples • Appendix E: Verbatim Comments, Airport/HR Manager Survey • Appendix F: Verbatim Comments, Airport Employee Survey

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, airport operators had to develop strategies that maintained operations while ensuring employee safety and public health. Though not all airport-related tasks can be performed from remote worksites, many airports identified tasks that could be performed remotely.

ACRP Synthesis 126: Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies, from TRB's Airport Cooperative Research Program, provides information on those airports that experimented in remote work, provides options for airports that did not participate in remote work, and identifies emerging trends.

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