Muscat and Abu Dhabi Airports Crisis Management and Recovery Post Covid-19 Pandemic: A Comparative Study

Introduction

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak brought a massive drop in air traffic. The limited number of flights and travelers caused tremendous financial loss to Muscat Airport and other airports in the Middle East. Thus, the Airport operated a limited number of passenger flights and cargo flights. All aspects of social, economic, and operational dimensions suffered significant disruptions. The resulting crisis in the dramatic change in mobility, travel, grounding of aircraft, and trade disruptions required crisis management responses. Also, the resulting crisis forced decision-makers in different airports worldwide to face challenges that included mitigating the impacts of disruptions on social and organizational practices. Muscat International Airport instituted different crisis management approaches to respond to the shocks and disruptions caused by COVID-19. Different airports around the world implemented various policies and frameworks for crisis management. Comparing Muscat and Abu Dhabi Airports recovery and crisis management process will depict measures to prevent reputational, economic, operational and business losses.

Current Recovery Strategies for Muscat Airport

The resurgence of COVID-19 created increasing uncertainty in several sectors. The Airports Council International (ACI) published its eighth quarterly assessment revealing different impacts of the pandemic on the airports’ management and operations (Dube, Nhamo, and Chikodzi, 2021). When the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, life as people knew it changed. According to Oman’s Airport Annual Report (2020), Muscat Airport rolled out a health, safety, and environmental campaign to recover from the losses occasioned by COVID-19. The strict safeguards guaranteed the recovery procedure to protect airport users, passengers, and employees. Thus, the Airport established a social distance protocol by recommending virtual meetings. The Civil Aviation Authority created a guide for its passengers traveling through different airports in Oman. Therefore, Muscat International Airport set up COID 19 testing station and conducted technical tests to assess the strength and integrity of the taxiway and runway.

Muscat International Airport used public relations in crisis management. The Airport allowed all non-professional staff to work from home. Crisis management strategies are methods that respond to significant adverse events. The unpredictable event that occurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic triggered decisions that would limit the damage to the organization. Research indicates that crisis management approaches seek to minimize the damage that the COVID-19 pandemic caused. Muscat International Airport developed comprehensive processes that dealt with unexpected and sudden disruptions. The Airport’s authority sent internal emails to all staff informing them of regular updates. It also utilized the social media pages t to update the public on any updates on the recovery process. Also, the Airport established a hotline phone number for staff to address any emerging issues. The recovery strategy aimed to spread the message and ensure quality media coverage for all events. Thus, it raised awareness among customers and society by communicating up-to-date preventive measures, recovery efforts, and plans (Oman Observer, 2020). For this reason, Muscat International Airline embarked on organizational efforts that involved a cost-reduction approach by developing a drilling rig device. The device was part of the response strategy that reduced operational costs across the airport terminals and used low-volume air traffic to ensure the safety of the aircraft.

Muscat International Airport prepared its employees and other stakeholders to face the adverse conditions with determination and courage. In modern days, crisis management embodies an imperative approach to organizational performance. The magnitude of preparedness informs the effectiveness of crisis management. According to Seth et al. (2018), the concerns of unpredictable and rare occurrences reveal that crisis management involves direct actions to respond, evaluate and mitigate events of the crisis levels. These actions coalesce around the intervention efforts between the stages of crisis escalation and cascading the impacts of the crisis. For this reason, crisis management is a critical component of organizational management. Every day manifests diverse levels of crisis. Therefore, adopting a practical framework of crisis management depends on the ability of an organization to develop an action plan that reflects a general framework of crisis management.

Leadership competencies helped Muscat International Airport to turn the threats of COVID-19 into the impetus for progress and innovations. The Airport builds on its achievement of proactively addressing the disruptions caused by the spread of COVID-19 (Aro-Gordon et al., n.d). From mid-March to April 2020, Muscat International Airport closed all its coordinated international passenger traffic and asked its staff to work from home. The response was to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It also started an action list to track its stakeholders’ readiness for the resumption of operations (Al Ghafri et al., 2021). As part of the recovery plan, the Airport established a working group to jointly manage the recovery process among all its stakeholders. Airport management relied on leadership competencies to propose dimensions of crisis management. The stages of crisis management depend on the ability of a leader to embrace a crisis-prone culture and utilize leadership competencies that help the organization reflect on its practices (Bhaduri, 2018). Since contemporary organizations operate in extreme uncertainties, such as natural calamities and epidemics like COVID-19, leadership becomes essential. The underlying reason is that crises disrupt the discontinuous external and internal environment.

Crisis events that arise from external conditions require leadership competitive to immunize the negative impacts of the crisis and leverage the crisis to the organization’s advantage. In the last quarter of 2020, the civil authority established the Civil Aviation Taskforce for Operations Recovery, which bound Muscat International Airport on travel guidelines, health, safety, environment patrols, and quarantine guidelines (Oman’s Airport Annual Report, 2020). The Airport coordinated with relevant authorities to launch a COVID-19 retail policy as a standard reference for its commercial operations. The Airport worked with the Civil Aviation Authority to produce the COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol that coordinated the operations of some repatriation flights during the closure of the airports. For these reasons, leaders need to embrace consistent stakeholder involvement and communication strategies at every crisis stage. Bhaduri (2019) proposes that the five elements of crisis management include human forces, organizational culture, top management resilience, and technological input.

The restart of the scheduled passenger flights was through Airport’s Emergency operations. This ensured that the facilities, staff, systems, and processes worked as outlined. Muscat International Airport prepared a comprehensive recovery plan encouraging communication and crisis management to resume operations and coordinate service delivery. The Airport continued reinforcing the coordination mechanism in the recovery phase (OECD, 2020). Although the COVID-19 pandemic occasioned a long-lasting impact on the aviation sector, leaders in several airports worldwide used their competencies to revise, innovate and transform their business models (Le and Phi, 2019). Thus, crisis management utilized a one-size-fits-all framework in responding to events involving pandemic situations.

Comparing the Recovery Strategy

The recovery strategies of most airports informed the commitment to the guidelines of the Civil Aviation Authority. Muscat International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport focused on implementing the operational task force supporting comprehensive health and safety measures. International Airport Review (2020) supported the findings from Oman Airport Annual Report 2020 by supporting global efforts to combat Covid 19. As a result, Abu Dhabi International Airport complied with the International Civil Aviation Authority to ensure secure, safe, and efficient emergency supplies and equipment transport. The efforts reflect the recovery strategy that Muscat International Airport employed in facilitating humanitarian flights and repatriation efforts during the lockdown period (Al Ghafri et al., 2021). In the initial phase of the pandemic, Abu Dhabi International Airport and Muscat International Airport facilitated a significant number of humanitarian and repatriation flights for Emiratis and Oman’s citizens returning from different regions of the world. Both airports provided repatriation of foreign nationals and expatriates departing for their home countries.

Muscat airports and Abu Dhabi Airport coordinated with relevant authorities, suppliers, and partners to bolster the efforts for recovery. As a result, the airports protected public health and maintained the integrity of their operations. Both airports recognized the crisis in the aviation sector and the need for a multi-sectoral approach to developing the recovery process (Oman’s Airport Annual Report, 2020). Therefore, the similarities between Muscat and Abu Dhabi Airports’ recovery processes ensured that they addressed the health and safety of their passengers, stakeholders, and employees. The airports also continued their operations to provide consistent communication through different arrangements for the plans.

The difference that emerges in the recovery plans is in the execution of the programs. While Muscat International Airport built a more robust collaboration ecosystem, Abu Dhabi International airport responded to the crisis from a public health dimension. Muscat airport focused o reducing the cost of operation and introduced major operational channels such as consolidating terminals, closing concessions, and furloughing the staff. However, Abu Dhabi International Airport embraced a collective call for relief measures and built new success foundations through partnerships and collaborations.

Muscat International Airport applied the general framework for crisis management. While this allowed the Airport to provide substantial benefits in situations of significant crises, Abu Dhabi International Airport followed the guidelines of the public health agency. The considerable disease crisis challenges impacted airport infrastructure, necessitating the cross-cut crisis management contingency plan (Fung, Tsui, and Hon, 2020). Whereas Muscat International Airport understood a crisis management plan depended on the existing framework to enhance the institutions’ recovery, Abu Dhabi International Airport’s crisis response revealed the implementation of the Mitroff best practice model. This model demonstrates how organizations can effectively manage crises (Olaganathan, 2021). The potentially disruptive and unexpected crisis threatened the existence of airports and the aviation inducer affecting their performance and reputation.

The Efficiency of Covid-19 Immediate Measures

The efficiency of Muscat International Airport lies in establishing precautionary COVID-19 testing. The effort was to promote the health and safety of all the stakeholders, employees, and passengers. During the immediate crisis response, the robust set of precautionary measures included a thermal screening of passengers and staff and establishing free COVID-19 PCR testing for employees and passengers (Oman’s Airport Annual Report, 2020). A typical crisis response approach emerges from several airports in size and performance. Muscat International Airport and similar airports focused on complying with their respective Civil Aviation Authority guidelines to conduct a regular risk assessment and implement workforce cluster management in coordination with airlines operating from the individual airports (Oman Observer, 2020). Thus, the airports succeeded in enforcing social distance guidelines, implementing roster realigning for ample staffing, and establishing frequent sterilization of workspaces and common areas through the distinct Airport facilities.

Most airports applied the Mitroff crisis management model as a general framework to optimize the crisis response. The model has significant aspects, including a clear contingency plan for crisis handling guidelines for different airports. Since the aviation sector operates on global rules and regulations, enhanced communication challenges among departments in IATA allowed for the effective sharing of crisis mitigation plans (Klauser & Pauschinger, 2020). Therefore, all the critical aspects and phases of crisis preparedness and response resonated with the coordinated and uniform approach to providing parking bays for grounded airlines and engaging in measures to protect the Airport’s revenue, operations, infrastructure, and human factors.

The dimensions of Mitroff’s crisis management models allowed airport management organizations to detect the trails of early warning and recognize factors that would precede the crisis. According to Leta and Chan (2021), organizations engage in action plans and communications that systematically reduce the crisis, mitigate the impacts, and establish order after the crisis. The principle fits into the dimensions of the crisis management lifecycle and response framework that most airports use. Integrating the four-stage lifecycle of crisis management indicates why airports worldwide used a simplified model that outlined the guidelines for crisis response, prevention, planning, implementation, evaluation, and feedback. Thus, the airport management aligned their crisis management response to the COVID-19 pandemic by planning the response, developing and executing a crisis management plan, and coordinating with relevant stakeholders to map the response strategies and mitigate the crisis (Olaganathan, 2021). In some regions, managers took recovery actions after the crisis. Notably, airports applied the Mitroff model by identifying the elements of general crisis management. Such a mechanism focused on assessing the risks and evaluating the response mitigation mechanisms, stakeholders, systems, and scenarios involved throughout the entire process of the crisis.

COVID-19 threatened the organizational goals of the airports in different regions. While the managers did not respond immediately, they created a platform for assessing the trends and responding appropriately. According to Serrano and Kazda (2020), the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated business failure. Many travelers could not trust the Airport’s decision to lift the lockdown. This exerted pressure on the management of airports and threatened organizational value. Therefore, the airports were susceptible to the COVID-19 crisis because of weak market positions, low preparedness, resource constraints, and high dependency on the World Health Organization and the government. Therefore, the airports suffered from the number of employees, cash flow issues, reduced sales volume, business closure, financial losses, and inability to meet their contractual obligations. Most airports did not have the option to maintain their operations and facilitate the movements of cargo flights and repatriation. While the airlines stopped flying due to the decrease in the demand for passengers, airports needed to support airlines by providing certain areas as new parking sections (IEA, 2020). The World Director General of Airport Council International released a media statement that proposed that the recovery of operations in the aviation industry would take up to two years to reach the pre-crisis traffic levels (Serrano & Kazda, 2020). Thus, the quick response reflected the global economic policy to protect critical airport operations and the millions of jobs that rely on airport operations.

Crisis Management of Airports and Precautionary Plans

Comparative assessment reveals that many counties imported partial and total lockdowns, affecting airport operations. The health and safety of passengers, staff, and other stakeholders in the Air transport sector became the primary priority. Dube, lNhamo, and Chikodzi (2021) reiterate that airports sought to introduce significant biosafety and health measures that would consolidate the health and safety of passengers. For this reason, the airport customer experience reflected the changing expectations among the global population, thus addressing their concern (Serrano & Kazda, 2020). Although Muscat International Airport adopted a consolidated approach in partnering with the government to prepare for the restarting of global connectivity, the unprecedented efforts in global vaccinations provided hope for the return of normalcy. Besides, the COVID-19 pandemic brought airports worldwide to a halt. The second quarter of 2020 reported persuaded airport traffic, losses, and revenue decline.

Muscat International Airport and other airports in the Middle East used contraction, consolidation, and future consideration in their crisis management. When airports responded to the demand drop and reduction in revenue by avoiding direct operating costs, they communicated to all their stakeholders about their plans (Budda, Isona, and Adrienne, 2020). Unknown consequences with sudden and unexpected disruptions in operations characterized the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, the Airport communicated to its stakeholders the choices it undertook to accommodate the impacts and thus respond to the crisis (Kamil, 2020). According to Al-Debbagh (2020), the administrative approach developed a plan to address the challenges. The organizational difficulties mainly depicted the airlines’ ability to project the occurrence of the crisis, predicting the different scenarios that would emerge and examining the weakness in the system that may appear during the period of the crisis. The necessity to prepare a crisis management plan occurred at the macro level of most airports of the same size and performance as Muscat International Airport (Park, 2021). Different airports in different counties developed a crisis response strategy by highlighting the critical priorities in the scope of the crisis. In Saudi Arabia and the larger Middle East, airports detect principal social issues and decide by developing a public communication policy. The implication of the macro-level crisis response fostered the leadership policy for handling the crisis. The best practices from Saudi Arabia included aligning the organizational culture, framework preparation, and establishing an airport crisis response system.

The leadership competencies are similar to the European and Middle East models of responding to the crisis. Leaders of various airports in the two regions relinquished the belief that top-down communication would promise stability. Therefore, the airports undertook routine emergencies and relied on their control and command structure to manage operations. The scripted response depended on leaders organizing their organizations, setting clear crisis priorities, and empowering stakeholders with information (Park, 2021). Therefore, leaders organized a network of teams to promote rapid problem-solving and diffuse tension, chaotic conditions, and stress among leaders. The network of teams consisted of highly adaptable groups that worked together to enhance collaboration among teams. Leaders approached the crisis positively and guided their airports in ensuring they managed all communication processes while upholding the organizational reputation (Choi, 2021). The central aim of the crisis management involved the airports developing the necessary system to minimize the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and enhance organizational resilience.

Airports relied on IATA and different airports authority to form an emergency and management task force. The agency targeted tracking the evolution and trends of the COVID-19 pandemic whale, implementing appropriate measures to curb its spread (Choi, 2021). Therefore, some of the actions these organizations adopted aligned with the public health protocols of social distancing and closure of airports to passenger airlines. The airports implemented guidelines that limited person-to-person transmission in public places. When the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, airport management developed stringent measures, including suspending passenger and transit flights and providing particular wings for airplanes to park (Kamil, 2020). Rational crisis management across different airports indicates a comparative policy approach that focuses on ensuring staff and general public safety. The overall communication and crisis management plan allowed the Dubai Airports Corporations to instruct the passengers on the changes in travel behavior.

 

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