In the midst of the global crisis caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19, Quito airport keeps its operations running to receive and dispatch flights that, in a world with reduced connectivity, can prove to be essential.
Q uito International Airport is a strategic site for the city and the country; it is the main entry and exit door by air and therefore, since the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic began, the operation of the airport and the controls that the health and immigration authorities carry out have been key in the efforts that Ecuador does to contain the disease.
Andrew O’Brian, President and CEO of Corporación Quiport, the company in charge of the operation and management of the Quito International Airport, explained that “since the beginning of the situation, in mid-January, we have maintained permanent coordination at the highest level with the Ministry of Government, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, the Ministry of Health, the General Directorate of Civil Aviation, the Municipality of Quito, the Metropolitan Public Company of Airport Services (EPMSA), the airlines that operate in Quito and our commercial operators to guarantee that the measures applied at the city’s airport meet the control objectives while at the same time the international regulations established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)”.
Since the first days of this sanitary crisis, the presence of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Public Health has been permanent, applying the necessary prevention and control protocols in
accordance with the alert stages that the World Health Organization has been announcing.
The work carried out at Ecuador’s main airport has not been a simple task. By Government decree, national passenger flights are suspended, as well as the arrival of passengers on international flights. Although air operations have been limited to only cargo flights and a few international passenger departure flights, sanctioned by the Ecuadorian State, the circumstances require increased efforts, especially to manage the operation of export cargo, essential to keep alive the production of flowers, the main export product by air in the country.
Quiport administrative personnel, as well as practically all the dependencies of public and private entities that operate in the airport, are working remotely under home-office measures, while complying with social distancing imposed by the Government. On the other hand, the operations personnel necessary to keep airport open is presently at the bare minimum. Of course, all staff must use personal protective equipmetn such as masks and gloves, and also follow the recommendations to keep a distance of at least one meter from other people, constantly wash their hands and continually use hand sanitizer or alcohol.
“We have a great responsibility to keep operations open, but even greater is our responsibility to the people who work at the airport and to the travelers,” emphasizes Andrew O’Brian. Therefore, another of the preventive measures adopted by Quiport to avoid Covid-19 infections at the airport is the disinfection of the passenger terminal. For this, a broad spectrum virucidal is used, employed in hospitals. The product is applied consistently in all areas through which airport passengers transit.
Communication is another factor that the airport operator has not neglected. In these situations, the natural fear of a pandemic is fueled by disinformation and, aware of this threat, Quiport leadership organized three fronts of communication: internal to company employees, external to companies and institutions that provide service at the airport, which is known as the airport community, and finally public, aimed at the media and public opinion in general.
For Andrew O’Brian, showing leadership has been essential. “Keeping all of our stakeholders informed gave us the necessary space to be able to act calmly, make the appropriate decisions at every juncture and work collectively, while listening to the points of view, concerns and needs of all those who we are involved in the operation of the airport”.
As such, from the moment the Government declared a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Quiport has been acting as a valid mediator between the authorities, on the one hand, and airlines and commercial operators, on the other, to find points of agreement that allow efficiently implement flight restriction measures necessary to control the spread of the disease and prevent people who could be infected with the virus from entering the country.
In this manner, several work sessions have been held, led by the Mayor of Quito, Jorge Yunda, the General Director of Civil Aviation, Anyelo Acosta, Pablo Galindo, Undersecretary of Civil Aeronautical Transport, among other authorities, together with the managers of Quiport and airline representatives to cover all concerns and requirements.
At the same time, a coordination mechanism was also created with the embassies of various countries to establish information channels to provide support to their citizens, while in Ecuador.
Taking advantage of lessons learned from previous situations - such as the social protests that paralyzed the country for 10 days in October 2019 - mechanisms are implemented to regulate the entry of passengers to the terminal and the administrative building, located in front of the terminal. An area has been fitted to accomodate passengers who must stay overnight at the airport while waiting for their flight abroad. We are deeply concerned for our users; Quiport serves snacks and hot drinks to dozens of passengers who spend the night waiting for their flight to make the hours of stay a little more bearable.
Behind all this is, according to Andrew O’Brian, a team of highly committed and highly professional workers. “The most resilient companies are those that can face crises and overcome them to move forward. Resilience is something we have acquired over the years, facing together many complex situations that have occured in the airport industry and others product of the social and economic environment in which our operation is run. The team knows that together we will prevail and we will emerge stronger from this situation.”
But it is also essential to have the support of the authorities. EPMSA is the municipal entity that acts as Quiport’s counterpart in the Public-Private Alliance for airport management. “The excellent relationship we have with the General Manager of the EPMSA, Sandro Ruiz, allows us to maintain a direct channel at the highest municipal level to ensure total alignment, essential to develop proactive management; Sandro Ruiz fully understands our role, allows us to act and intervenes in a timely manner when circumstances demand it.”
And at the end a look to the future. “We hope that this situation ends soon and we are aware that the negative effects will be felt for months. We, the nine thousand people and more than 100 entities that work at the airport, are ready to recommence our activities with resolve and resume our role as one of the main economic engines of Quito and Ecuador.”
CARGO OPERATIONS HAVE NOT STOPPED
A total 69 cargo flights have left the Quito International Airport between the 18th and 29th of March, transporting 2,500 metric tons of export cargo to the world.
Restrictions imposed on air transport do not affect international cargo flights, however, due to the global health emergency caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, international markets have decreased their demand. Similarly, cargo imports continue to develop to supply the country with the products and supplies necessary for various activities.
“Keeping the cargo operations open allows the country’s producing sector active, specifically the one related to flower production. The airport is the main point of entry and exit of goods for Quito and its area of influence, therefore, it is essential to continue with the cargo operation, fulfilling the commitment made to the Mayor of Quito, Jorge Yunda, to continue supporting the productive activities of the city,” says Andrew O’Brian, President and CEO of Corporación Quiport.
The entire air cargo logistics chain is still operational, starting in Tabacarcen, a logistics center that houses 70% of the air cargo consolidation, as well as the four palletizers that work in the export cargo terminal: Novacargo, Pertrally, Aerosan and Servipalet . Cargo airlines continue to arrive at the airport, although some flights were suspended due to lower demand.
All the actors in the logistics chain have taken all the necessary protection measures to prevent infection among their collaborators, equipping them with the necessary personal protection equipment, and at the same time continuing with their daily operations.
“It is a difficult time for everyone, however, we have a great responsibility to the country. All of us involved in the activity of air cargo transportation are very well aware of this fact. We are very grateful for the commitment, will and effort of the companies involved and their work teams, who are allowing us not to stop,” concludes Andrew O’Brian.