Foresight forges future prospects for Lithuania’s airports

Bernie Baldwin

Uncertain times is undoubtedly a description for 2020 so far. And in such times, it pays to be able to see the big picture and prepare for a variety of possible outcomes.

Lithuanian Airports, the state enterprise “which unites and manages” three airports – Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga – not only saw that big picture but did it with some foresight too, according to Aurimas Stikliūnas, the company’s head of aviation services. “By the time quarantine rules were implemented, our route development team was already working on a contingency plan and the actions needed for a smooth recovery and maintaining longterm growth,” he reports.

“Close, strategic partnerships with our range of stakeholders – including business and tourism partners, municipalities and other organisations – have always been among the most important elements of our route development strategy. This crisis was no exception,” Stikliūnas emphasises. “We got together to discuss financial support and other measures to help airlines to recover strategically important routes in the shortterm. We also developed longer-term actions to get back to the traffic and demand of 2019 and to maintain growth into the future.

“While working on returning traffic to Lithuanian Airports, we also focused on other development opportunities, such as MRO. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak and the grounding of passenger flights, we’ve seen that our strategic decision to focus on MRO development was right,” he observes. “A number of flights have continued to operate at Kaunas Airport, the largest MRO centre in the Baltics, solely due to maintenance work being done on those aircraft. Furthermore, several hundred people were able to maintain their employment positions. Our MRO centre is expanding and we’re working on attracting more companies to establish their MRO operations here in Lithuania.”

As for the return of passenger flights, that process is under way. “Currently we already have 15 routes from Lithuanian airports, with much more to be started in late June and throughout July. The recovery mainly depends on government regulations for travellers among EU countries and also the demand,” Stikliūnas remarks.

“The quarantine in Lithuania was lifted from 17 June, meaning that the conditions to travel have been loosened. Every week, the Lithuanian government will update the list of safe countries from where people can come to Lithuanian and to which destinations flights can resume. The countries considered to be safe will be those where the pandemic situation is improving, and the case rate doesn’t go above 15 cases/100,000 population over the previous 14 days,” he states.

“In Lithuania too, the restrictions are starting to ease and the country is ready to welcome back tourists. We hope that the safety measures being implemented, the easing of restrictions and restarted flights to safe countries will stimulate the demand to grow constantly. And we expect to reach the levels of 2019 by the end of 2021 at the earliest,” Stikliūnas forecasts.

While measures being implemented at airports – distancing, disinfection, masks – are first and foremost for safety, they are also important in raising passengers’ confidence to fly again.

Agreeing on safety being paramount, Stikliūnas adds, “In this situation, it is important that both airports and airlines are ready and look after our passengers. We have already implemented a number of measures for the safety of our passengers and employees. Our airlines have also implemented safety and security procedures adhering to

“Safety measures across Lithuanian airports are related to passengers maintaining social distancing, managing passenger flows and reducing the probability of human contact. Passengers must do health and temperature screening, present a valid flight ticket and wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Protective glass walls have been erected at registration, check-in, aviation security screening and boarding checkpoints,” he continues. “Hand sanitisers are placed in commonly-used areas; all surfaces are regularly cleaned and disinfected, as well as baggage trolleys and all other equipment used by passengers.

“Some measures might change according to recommendations from local and international health organisations, but we aim for each of our airports to remain one of the safest places to travel through.”

Stikliūnas also points out that the company has begun a local marketing campaign to promote travel and increase demand. “We aim to encourage travellers to explore the already safe countries, while keeping all safety measures,” he confirms, never straying from the one imperative of aviation, uncertain times or not.

 

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