AIN Q&A: EBAA's Khan Outlines Pandemic Problems

 - April 23, 2020, 2:30 PM
Athar Husain Khan, secretary-general of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA).

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on the aviation sector. According to Eurocontrol data, the reduction in the number of flights across Europe averages almost 90 percent since mid-April compared to the same time in 2019. AIN spoke with Athar Husain Khan, secretary-general of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), on how the region’s business aviation segment is adapting and what is needed to reboot operations when travel restrictions are lifted.

How does an organization like EBAA cope with the Covid-19 health crisis?

We keep the office running with the latest IT gadgets and gimmicks, we have conference calls, organize webinars and so on, and of course the most important thing is that everybody stays safe and healthy. We are doing as much as we can to continue assisting our members and keep everyone engaged. We took early in the crisis the strategic decision to get a good feeling of what it is that our sector is experiencing and facilitated an online survey. We received a lot of responses, a lot more than we had expected.

What are your members' deepest concerns?

The survey of 130 European business aviation CEOs revealed that the majority anticipate deep financial losses and the top three concerns are about staffing, fixed costs, and taxes. A third of CEOs surveyed estimate a revenue loss of around 80 percent compared to their budgeted forecast. There are European funds, such as the EU Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, and national schemes that offer support to employers to retain staff. However, access to those financial instruments should be simple, straightforward, and streamlined as many of our members are small and medium-sized companies. They do not have the time or staff to navigate through complex procedures. Several companies had to reduce their staff due to the pandemic. The survey, which ran from March 26 to April 2, revealed that over 50 percent of companies in the European business aviation sector have had to put their employees on leave and over 60 percent have had to reduce hours for their staff.

How are the continent’s operators keeping up with the unending flow of travel restrictions? There was no common EU-wide approach, and each state has its own approach to border closures and phasing out lockdowns.

The many flight limitations and country entry or exit restrictions make it exceedingly difficult for our operators, and many of them operate essential medical and emergency flights. Because several of them are small and medium-sized enterprises and they do not have the resources to keep track of the continually evolving situation, with new developments occurring daily, EBAA stepped in and launched a dedicated Covid-19 Resource Centre. We update the information, on the EU and global level.

What support are you expecting from the European Commission and national regulators to protect the continuity and survival of the business aviation sector in the face of the Covid-19 crisis?

Measures that we are looking for are very much targeted at ensuring more operational flexibility, less red tape, and no financial burdens. EBAA jointly with the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and national industry groups outlined an action plan that calls for relaxation of travel restrictions, the extension of pilot licenses and airworthiness certificates, and financial aid through guarantees, credit, and the suspension of taxes and fees. I like to highlight that the whole supply and value chain should be eligible to benefit from financial support and relief measures. Nobody is going to be helped if ATC, fuel supply, fire emergency, airports, maintenance providers, or security provision stops. We believe the entire ecosystem should be maintained and should be back to normal as soon as possible. Business aviation has a vital role to play in the fight against Covid-19 and will be one of the key catalysts for the recovery of society, particularly economically, when the pandemic is over.