George Ettiyil is the Germany-headquartered Lufthansa Group's Senior Director for South Asia Sales. In this interview with 'India Global Business', he reflects upon India's recent air bubble agreements with several countries, including Germany, and how it would positively impact the global aviation industry, particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus lockdown.
What is the Lufthansa Group′s outlook for the Indian market in the coming months?
The situation remains highly dynamic for every airline, including Lufthansa. Since the aviation market development depends entirely on country entry regulations worldwide, it is difficult to give an outlook or concrete projections.
However, for India - one of our most important international markets - we are seeing positive developments after it was more or less cut off from the rest of the world since mid-March. Following a bilateral agreement between India and Germany, Lufthansa has been able to reinstate inbound passenger flights as of 13 August after already resuming outbound flights since June. This finally enables our customers to book a full round trip and restores some normalcy. In a first step, more than 40 flights are offered from Frankfurt and our five-star hub Munich to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore until the end of August. Since travel demand to and from India remains high, we will formally apply for inbound flights to India beyond August in due time and will be in close consultation with Indian authorities concerning this. In this context it is important to note that our flights to and from India are relief flights and not regular flights. They address the continuing need for essential travel to and from India, bringing people together again and to support the travel needs of businesses.
Do you foresee the Covid-19 testing measures at German airports being used in India as well?
We would certainly welcome them. Since July, Lufthansa has been offering Indian customers a convenient option at Frankfurt and Munich airports to test for coronavirus on short notice. These Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction Test (RT-PCR) coronavirus tests only require a throat swab and are certified by German health authorities. Both coronavirus test centres at our hubs in Frankfurt and Munich provide customers the opportunity to avoid being quarantined upon arrival in Germany, with a negative coronavirus test in their hand. Results are usually available within four to five hours after testing and are linked to the customer's flight ticket. This also makes it easier to travel safely to other countries worldwide that accept a certified PCR coronavirus test, thereby avoiding quarantine. That is why having PCR corona test centres like the ones in Frankfurt and Munich at airports worldwide, including India, are seen as a key factor to restore international travel.
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What is the long-term impact of the pandemic you see vis-a-vis air travel to and from India?
Sadly, air travel worldwide will feel the impact of the coronavirus pandemic for years to come. However, if a global player like India with such a high demand for international travel starts opening up again, it will be positively felt by airlines worldwide. In other words: if the circumstances allow for less travel restrictions, we'll see an upswing in customer demand for flights to and from India.
What are some worldwide hygiene steps likely to be part of the air travel experience in future?
Lufthansa has always maintained the highest standards of safety and hygiene for its passengers - it's at the core of our airline DNA. We've done a lot before the coronavirus crisis, and we will continue to do so in these extraordinary times. For measures on the ground, Lufthansa Group airlines work closely together with the respective airports at our hubs and in the destination countries to ensure physical distancing and other hygiene measures. For example, boarding and deboarding are performed in a staggered manner to ensure social distancing. Whole board service takes into account flight duration to minimize interaction between guests and crew. The requirement to wear a mouth and nose mask from the time of boarding to disembarking from the aircraft is a central element of Lufthansa Group′s hygiene concept. We also have strict aircraft cleaning standards - for every single flight.
It is important to mention that the risk of contracting the virus during a flight is very low. This is also due to all Lufthansa Group aircraft being equipped with state-of-the-art hepa filters that continuously clean cabin air: all recirculated air is filtered and cleaned of impurities such as dust, bacteria and viruses. Further, all cabin air is completely renewed approximately every three minutes, a much higher ventilation rate than is usual for other interiors and means of transport. In addition, the air flow in an aircraft cabin is from top to bottom. This means, the air conditioning system is designed to prevent longitudinal airflow in the cabin.
What is your message to travellers as curbs on air travel are gradually eased?
Start flying and say hello to the world again - there is no safer way to travel than on an aircraft. Airlines like Lufthansa have extensive safety and hygiene measures in place for customers. This reduces to a minimum the risk of contracting the virus during a flight.