Managing the logistics of continual change: travel and the new normal for mining organisations
There are momentous challenges being overcome every day to ensure that essential workers in the sector can get where they need to, and safely.
Managing the logistics of continual change:
Travel and the new normal for mining organisations
"Planning and managing travel to remote locations is complex under normal circumstances. Moving the right highly-specialist people to the right port or heliport requires expertise and a military-style approach to scenario planning. "
Gary Pearce, chief commercial officer, ATPI Mining and Resouces
Managing the logistics of continual change:
Travel and the new normal for mining organisations
Gary Pearce, chief commercial officer ATPI Mining and Resources.
Planning and managing travel to remote locations is complex under normal circumstances. Moving the right highly-specialist people to the right port or heliport requires expertise and a military-style approach to scenario planning.
Add a global pandemic and an almost worldwide shut-down of international air travel to the equation, and circumstances are acutely compounded. In most cases, workers in the mining sector are essential, as the world continues to demand power, fuel and resources.
As the spread of COVID-19 has forced much of the world into lockdown, and international borders to close, there are momentous challenges being overcome every day to ensure that essential workers in the sector can get where they need to, and safely.
It’s fair to say that the speed at which lockdowns happened around the world – with varying degrees of severity – took most organisations, and governments, by surprise.
For those businesses that rely on regular crew rotations, people in transit were unable to get to the location they needed to be in, and those on remote mine sites faced challenging journeys home.
For a mining business the immediate impact on travel plans caused huge challenges to operations. Building in 14 day quarantine periods at either end of a journey, overcoming a lack of commercial flights, and working with governments around the world to ensure ever-changing border restrictions do not overturn plans for
a workers hours away from arriving are just some of the measures introduced in a very short period of time.
And of course, the duty of care responsibility to people has been front and centre of trying to overcome the barriers in play. Duty of care has always been at the forefront of mining work, and in this situation the careful due diligence paid to the mental wellbeing of those remaining away from home for long periods has become ever more important.
Detail and delivery
As a specialist travel management company (TMC) that understands all of the factors managing ever-changing circumstances. The finer details are absolutely crucial. Not only do we have to plan how to get a crew safely to their required location, and meet social distancing and quarantine restrictions of the nations where they are travelling, we also have to ensure we keep everyone who comes into contact with them safe too.
Considerations to overcome range from how travellers can access meals when catering options are closed, to how medical checks can be carried out in a manner that protects everyone’s health.
There is no rulebook or past experience learnings guide to handling what has happened with the COVID-19 outbreak. Our business relies on the professional experience of those who understand every tiny detail and nuance of travel within the mining sector and how to plan ahead for all the possible changes that could overturn the best made plans.
There is one clear certainty in a COVID-19 world, and that is that nothing at all is certain. A chartered aircraft with everyone on-board meeting the requirements to land at the time of take-off, may not meet quickly changing requirements by the time it arrives in its destination.
Mines cannot operate without the highly trained workers on site at the right time, and so there has to be workarounds.
This takes skilled people who know travel within the mining sector inside out, and have the knowledge to find multiple solutions to a huge range of potential challenges.
Lockdown restrictions around the world vary. From some destinations where restaurants are open at reduced capacity, to those where leaving home is not permitted outside of a medical emergency.
And restrictions are changing all the time as the virus is either accelerating or decreasing its reproduction rate in different parts of the world.
Staying on top of this to navigate how a journey can work for travelling crew is essential.
In one country there is a requirement to set up specific quarantine locations that allow travel to an airport without breaching any social distancing guidelines, even in some cases with medical escorts.
In another, hotels may not be allowed to open and sourcing relevant accommodation takes special set up. In some circumstances, an international airport might be operating at reduced capacity, but there are no food and drink concessions available. Feeding workers requires new catering arrangements, almost always in a manner that no one has done before, and that carries additional time and cost considerations.
As nations have different outbreak levels, border restrictions also vary. Someone who has travelled to a certain destination in the recent past may not be able to enter one country, and other nations have completely closed all international borders. Mining is a global sector, with some of the most diverse teams in the world. No one crew travelling together is the same nationality, and has the same recent travel history.
There is no one standard process operating across international airports and ports. Whilst temperature checks are becoming commonplace, they are not the only checks and measures in place that have to be factored in to a journey plan.
To support the travellers themselves, it is very difficult to prepare information to support them with what to expect.
This is just one aspect of duty of care that needs to be carefully considered in helping people to have the mental resilience to cope with lockdown logistics they will encounter.
Protocols and processes
To keep crew safe, most mining companies implemented their own quarantine and coronavirus testing procedures ahead of global lockdown. This has helped the sector prevent the huge outbreaks that have been seen in other industries, but they bring with them additional layers of complexity and significant cost.
Workers need to arrive in a quarantine location 14 days ahead of needing to travel. In some cases people quarantine before travel, and then must quarantine in an airport hotel in the nation of their destination, before being able to travel to site. The same quarantine protocols apply on the return leg home. This additional time is expensive, and no work is taking place.
One of the challenges in this pandemic is the amount of people who test positive for the virus, and yet show no symptoms. Workers may be asymptomatic and still test positive, meaning they cannot travel and must remain in isolation. Mining cannot safely operate without a full crew compliment, and so mining businesses are having to plan ahead and have extra team members travelling as pre-emptive sickness cover.
According to Robert Redfield, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 25 per cent of people infected with coronavirus don’t present any symptoms. This requires contingency planning to levels never seen before, and brings with it exceptional cost.
The mining sector has an incredible track record in ensuring measures to keep people safe, and they have retained this high bar during the COVID-19 pandemic. This requires investment into new processes to protect everyone’s health. From areas within helicopters where doctors can be isolated from other socially distancing passengers, to dedicated self-isolation facilities in cities centred around the mining industry, the investment is huge. We all have to be prepared that these costs will move through the supply chain.
ATPI Mining & Resources has travel in our DNA and we’re working with our clients to recommend the protocols that will need to be in place for the long term. We’re also working alongside industry bodies to support policy changes that see consistent requirements in the quarantine measures for crew travelling around the world.
It goes without saying that responding to a global lockdown situation is not without significant challenges for any business that requires extensive international travel for its operations to work.
But perhaps the biggest challenging factor has been the pace of continuous change impacting worldwide travel.
There are no consistent measures, and no consistent guidelines. Every nation has its own approach, and commonly a different approach depending on where your passport was last stamped.
And the varying measures are also changing all the time as countries respond to the different level of threat they are facing.
Thinking through every possible iteration of a crew’s journey is absolutely essential to avoid huge barriers. It is a very specialist skill to navigate all the additional questions that need to be answered in order to make crew travel work today, and to pre-empt the likely points in a journey that are susceptible to change. For our specialist travel advisors, this plotting for a journey of continuous change is now part of their daily routine.
The requirements to be able to enter different countries are changing all the time. In some cases as nations ease their own lockdown measures, they are in fact tightening the rules on international arrivals.
Whilst this is not a surprise as priorities shift towards reducing the risk of a new wave of coronavirus infections, it does mean that the impact of the pandemic on business travel is only just beginning. For the mining sector, continuous change is here for the long term.
There is no rulebook or past experience on the same scale of COVID-19 to apply to modelling how travel in the marine and energy sector might look for the long term.
As an industry we have gathered significant intelligence and learnings to aid tackling the kind of global disruption that we expect to remain on the horizon for some time. But the unknowns remain the unknowns, and whilst science races to find vaccines, understand transmission patterns and the biggest risk factors, global commerce has to continue.
The simple measures in place aiding our crew travellers to feel safer are not without implication. As airlines move towards no longer selling middle seats, and hotels have to accommodate social distancing, their pricing models will change to reflect the reduced capacity.
Planning for crew members’ time on duty that incorporates quarantine durations almost as long as a working contract brings yet more cost.
As costs soar, all businesses are under pressure to find ways to be effective. Outsourcing functions that are not a core competency is just one way in which many organisations respond.
TMCs are gearing themselves for more flexible contracts, allowing for scaling up and down as demand changes. Addressing the right balance between increasing costs and duty of care is just one area in which an experienced TMC can support mining organisations to protect their people, and their operations.
To a mining company, having a partner with an absolute specialism in their sector is essential. Organisations with offshore travel at their heart will undoubtedly require greater support from their TMC partners to navigate all the elements of a travel programme that will change. From possible immunity certificates, to increased transit time planning, the logistics for planning travel look to increase and become more complicated. Being able to deliver against these challenging parameters, as well handle inconsistent approaches to safe travel protocols in airports worldwide so that company policies are adhered to, will all be part of the new normal for TMCs.
ATPI Mining & Resouces holds the knowledge required to adapt to travel operations in a post-pandemic world where COVID-19 is an ever underlying threat. As an industry leader, adapting to new normals for us also includes working with airlines and border agencies to prioritise routes and solutions for those peforming critical operations.
And that is just the beginning.