2020 has been brutal. And there is not one part of the world where that statement comes as a surprise.
The world has witnessed and experienced a deadly pandemic, devastating economic fallout and social and political upheaval.
In my industry, aviation, the bottom fell out, and the world has seen how many jobs and livelihoods depend on travel and tourism. (It’s about 1 in 11.)
One bright spot is cargo, where traffic has increased sharply – so much so that airlines worldwide have ripped out the seats in their passenger planes to make way for more cargo than can fit in their belly spaces.
And as I write this, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are starting to be distributed. We may not get “back” to normal, but at some point we will find out what normal looks like going forward.
Through all of this year, I have been reminded of how essential we are to each other and the value of our shared experience and community.
As an airport, it is our job to provide the place where people begin and end journeys – some are life-changing adventures, others reconnect families and friends, many advance business relationships and careers.
Personally, I have missed the people I see when I travel and those who travel through our airports. But I have been lucky enough to witness the resilience of our team. They have taken to heart the need to keep health and safety top of mind for our passengers and for all of those who make their travel possible.
It is said that crisis doesn’t build character, crisis reveals character. I have witnessed that first-hand. My industry has been battered, but hardly beaten. I have seen how people care about each other by acting in ways they can, by focusing on what they can do. I have seen true character revealed, and I am heartened and grateful.
Early in the pandemic, our airport carpenters built and installed hand sanitizer stations around the airport – overnight – to provide better hygiene for the traveling public. They didn’t wait for orders to be placed and shipped to us. They saw the need. They understood the importance. They simply took care of it.
Our maintenance crews helped off-load FEMA flights carrying needed medical supplies to fight the pandemic. And our employee group took on the remarkable task of turning empty airport parking lots into one of the region’s largest food bank distribution centers, allowing thousands of our neighbors to conveniently pick up boxes of food. Later, our team turned our general aviation airport into a pet food distribution site.
On the front lines, our staff, and those of our partners, never wavered, taking care of their colleagues and our passengers. Recognizing that our facilities serve as national critical infrastructure, the team made sure that we could support those who need to fly for personal, professional or national security reasons.
As an airport with two military bases, we take seriously the need to always operate as safely and efficiently as possible.
Like all frontline first responders and medical professionals, our airport team exhibits the best in human nature. This sense of responsibility for each other will be part of what we carry forward.
For our industry, the relationship among airports and airlines and the entire travel ecosystem has never been more apparent. We have worked together this year closer than ever before and that will make our collective enterprise stronger than ever.
Finally, I am grateful for the wide appreciation of the role that aviation plays in our overall quality of life. Air travel makes dreams come true, allows for cultural understanding and puts a lot of people to work.
I’ve always been lucky in this sense, as the Pittsburgh community has a heightened appreciation for the role of aviation in the lifeblood of a city. Having lost a hub at the beginning of this century, the Western Pennsylvania region has been supportive of our new role as a global connector.
It is said that people are often at their best when things are at their worst. That’s certainly true where I work, as it is throughout this vibrant, remarkable region and in our global industry. While this year has been far from normal or easy or predictable, what I’ve seen and experienced gives me great hope for the future.
It is clear to me that we can get through anything – even a year like 2020. That said, like everyone else, I can’t wait for 2021.
Christina Cassotis is CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport.