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This high-flying grad is looking to relaunch safe commercial air travel

‘We’ve invested a lot to ensure we’re absolutely ready,’ says Concordian Andrew O’Brian, the CEO of Quito International Airport
July 23, 2020
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By Molly Hamilton

Quito International Airport in Ecuador At the height of the lockdown, Quito International Airport repatriated more than 30,000 tourists to Canada, Europe and the United States. | Photo: Corporación Quiport

This spring, airport CEO Andrew O’Brian, MBA (International Aviation) 09, was facing a very specific global challenge. With closed borders and mass flight cancellations, how could the aviation industry adjust to our new normal during — and after — COVID-19?

So Quito International Airport in Ecuador was looking to set an example on June 1, when it reopened to commercial flights at 30 per cent capacity. It is now offering flights with seven international and regional airlines, including American Airlines and KLM; more will be cautiously added in the coming weeks.

“This restart marked an important milestone,” says O’Brian. “Many countries are watching what is happening in our city with interest. In that sense, we are proud to be pioneers and show leadership.”

While Latin America became a hotspot of the pandemic, O’Brian and his team worked with Ecuador’s government and the mayor of Quito to equip the airport for safe travel.

“We’ve invested a lot to ensure the airport is absolutely ready,” he says.

Employees are now regularly screened with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to check for COVID-19, as well as wear masks and gloves, and follow social distancing protocols.

All check-in counters, restaurants, shops and immigration counters have been equipped with plexiglass barriers, and passengers’ temperatures are taken at check-in.

“We’ve also put up all kinds of signage, markings on the ground for social distancing and informational videos,” says O’Brian. “We want to make the airport safe and we want people to feel safe.”

‘It’s a huge learning curve’

andrew-obrian

Vancouver-native O’Brian is prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

He’s been working overseas for 17 years and for eight at Quito International Airport. He credits much of his professional success to the education he received at Concordia in the Global Aviation MBA program.

“My MBA in aviation was the pinnacle educational experience of my career,” says O’Brian. “It really launched me to where I wanted to go.”

Prior to COVID-19, Quito International Airport’s 9,000 employees managed 15,000 to 18,000 passengers a day, alongside a bustling cargo program of exports and imports. The airport is partnered with 18 international airlines from the United States, Canada, Europe and other Latin American countries.

But after the cessation of commercial flights on March 18, “it was like walking through a ghost town,” O’Brian says.

With one significant exception: “I’d say our air cargo program has actually increased a little bit because of all the emergency supplies that are flying around the world.”

The airport also coordinated the repatriation of Ecuadorian citizens, plus the repatriation of more than 30,000 tourists to their home countries in Canada, Europe and the United States.

“So we’ve been really, really busy trying to operate while also being on this huge learning curve to protect passengers in the airport, to protect our staff who work with passengers and to protect airport workers.”

‘How do you show people that it’s safe to travel again?’

Airlines have also been preparing for the restart of travel.

“Modern airplanes have these incredible high-efficiency particle (HEPA) filters that circulate air and kill viruses,” says O’Brian. “If we have the airport experience covered, and if the airlines have all their upgraded hygiene and cleaning protocols, and if they communicate that properly, then we think the experience of flying should be safe.”

But while Quito International Airport and some airlines may be ready to start welcoming passengers, a key question remains: are passengers ready to fly?

Quito International Airport in Ecuador COVID protocols at Quito’s airport include temperature readings.

“The main issue now is how do you show people that it’s safe to travel again? How long is that going to take? The fear, uncertainty and unpredictability of the future — what does that mean for a sector like us, in aviation?” asks O’Brian.

“We anticipate it could take us three to five years to get back slowly to the same volumes we were handling just last year.”

 

 

 

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