The number of passengers fell by 81% between early March and late August in France due to the coronavirus epidemic, and Paris and regional airports did not experience the recovery hoped for in August.
Silence on the runways … At Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, in mid-September, we hear more trucks than planes. Usually the airport feels like an anthill, with planes hitting the runways, service vehicles of all sizes and shapes moving in all directions. A real mechanical ballet. There, a single track tractor passes in front of us. And you sometimes have to wait ten minutes on Wednesday to see a plane pass. “It’s a ghost town, Christian Fromy, Aéroports de Paris agent for 20 years, is still surprised. When you’re outside, frankly, it’s very impressive. It feels like you’re in a deserted city. ”
After confinement due to the coronavirus epidemic, the hoped-for rebound at French airports in August did not take place, especially on international routes. According to figures from the French Airports Union released on Wednesday September 16 by franceinfo, the number of passengers fell by 81% between March 1 and the end of August 2020 compared to the same period last year . It is the large airports, those which depend on international flights, which are the most affected, starting with the largest of them: Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle, at Roissy.
At a glance, in one of the terminals, Christian Fromy notes the most telling details. “Usually when you look at the bulletin boards it starts at 12:30 for this one, he says, pointing to one of them, and there, at the bottom of the table, it’s 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. … You have flights until 8:30 p.m., it’s really very little. “
Next to the luggage belt, around which everyone is normally jostling, only the creaking of the carpet resonates. A few rare suitcases turn without any passenger to claim them. Only terminals 2E, 2F, A and C are open. “Four terminals open out of eight”sighs Christian Fromy, looking at the empty barrier coils in front of the police filters. In front of the gatehouses, there are only two travelers. Normally, we hear all languages spoken at Roissy but the panel of nationalities has been reduced. The Americans and the Chinese, for example, are almost absent.
Employees are on partial unemployment and find the time long. For example, baggage handlers have gone from almost 500 flights per day to be handled before the crisis to quarantine. They work three days a month. In Aéroports de Paris, up to 70% of employees have been on partial unemployment. And negotiations for a long-term agreement have started, which does not preclude a departure plan, announced by the management. It will result in 700 job cuts out of 6,300 employees.
Joël Dumontet of CFE-CGC, ADP’s first union, does not hide his concern. Roissy’s economic model, based on international connections, is hit hard by the closure of borders and restrictions on travelers. A violent shutdown after the continued growth of recent years. “The traffic we have now represents 20 to 25% of ordinary traffic, explains the trade unionist. Six months ago, we wouldn’t have believed it! Roissy, given the closure of the borders, is finding it very difficult to restart. “
Another condition is to restore confidence among passengers so that they can return to the plane. All this does not augur a rapid recovery.
This difficult economic situation causes growing social tension in the company. The plan plans to reduce costs by tackling social gains, which goes very badly with employees accustomed to growth announced as continuous, after a record year 2019 for air traffic. Planned investments are also compromised. ADP was counting on the construction of a terminal 4 at Roissy to accelerate its growth. The project is at best postponed, even in part called into question. Not to mention the financial aspect with the ADP privatization project which is forgotten, at least, for the moment.
And Roissy is not just Aéroports de Paris. There are 700 businesses that usually thrive there, and employ 90,000 people. The shops and restaurants installed in the airport benefit the millions of passengers who pass through it (76 million last year). Since the crisis, it is a real slump. Some cafes are closed, others are struggling. “We lost 70% of our customers, explains a manager of a restaurant. We have 60% of our workforce who are on partial unemployment, whose future is uncertain. ”
We sleep badly, we wonder if we will stay open tomorrow. Will there be any layoffs? As a mother of a family I worry every day.
The international body IATA does not see air traffic returning to its pre-crisis level before at least 2024. By then, some companies are threatened and Roissy airport may drop out of its European competitors, London, Amsterdam, Munich, Frankfurt, which will also seek to take advantage of the slow revival of traffic to strengthen their weight as hubs of international connections.
The situation is no better for regional airports. They are currently less affected, but still weighed down by the traffic collapse.
Even if they rely less on international flights, the question of the survival of some airports may arise. “It is possible that there is a lot of breakage”, confides Thomas Juin, president of the association of French airports. “You should know that regional airports are focused on France-Europe traffic, where it is completely disorganized. There is no longer the confidence to travel and it is really a situation that handicaps us every day”, he adds.
Thomas Juin also fears competition between European airports. In the coming months, companies will reduce their networks to save money. French airports could well lose a certain number of connections.