The aviation industry has faced some of the worst impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with travel bans and lockdowns severely affecting air travel.
However, there are indications that the industry will recover: data shows that in July 2020, airline passenger numbers rose by 7% globally, compared to June. In some countries (such as China and Australia), July passenger numbers even outpaced those seen a year ago.
But what will this future reality look like? The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it is working on a set of health protocols to help kick-start global air travel once again. These protocols include new safety measures for airport and airline staff, passengers, aircraft and aircraft maintenance; air traffic control; airport buildings; and ground staff.
As airlines face the greatest challenge to their business in history, it’s unclear how many will be able to survive in the short term.
The industry has been built on a low-cost model for decades, meaning very thin profit margins. This is especially true of budget airlines like Ryanair and easyJet. The no-frills models of these carriers were designed for planes landing at capacity and full flights – this is what makes them profitable.
However, with the amount of debt that all airlines are carrying due to coronavirus, many will struggle to stay afloat. In turn, this could lead to mergers and acquisitions between carriers as they reposition themselves as air travel reopens. As simple flying has stated, “2022 will be a defining year in American Aviation”, and so it might be true, globally, as we have learned that Comair SA has lodged an application for liquidation proceedings.
The other big post-covid story is the battle to restore services as demand rebounds – after significant layoffs at the height of covid and the background of the ‘great resignation’. Ground services and other functions are said to be in ‘chaos’ for certain European routes. Expect this to take a bit of time to resolve, especially in the UK as the effects of Brexit hit hard.
Pilotless flight is still a few decades away, but technological advances are slowly chipping away at the obstacles to this kind of aviation. Pilotless aircraft have the potential to change the way travelers fly and may become a significant factor in the evolution of flight over the coming years.
Technological and safety concerns about pilotless aircraft will need to be addressed before they can become widely used. Early experiments with pilotless aircraft took place during World War II when radio-controlled aircraft were used as missile decoys, but technological issues made them ineffective. Today’s technology makes pilotless flight possible, but there are still concerns about reliability and safety. While modern jet airliners can fly long distances with minimal human input, they rely on complex computers that act more like actuators than the artificial intelligence required for full autonomy. They cannot adapt like human pilots can and cannot make decisions on their own.
In contrast, pilotless flight is rapidly gaining traction is for military, security and remote sensing applications, both with rotary and fixed wing drones.
Notwithstanding this, our view is that pilotless flight for commercial aviation is not going to happen anytime soon.
As oil prices continue to fluctuate and the global imperative to move away from fossil fuels and regulating carbon emissions, demand will increase for more efficient aircraft technology. Electric engines are already being used in place of traditional combustion engines in cars and trucks, so it’s only natural that planes will start to utilize this technology as well. That said, there are currently issues related to energy density (the energy stored per unit mass) that need to be addressed before electric aircraft can match or exceed what is currently possible with combustion engines.
Another promising avenue is substitution of conventional jet fuel with biofuels. A number of hurdles still need to be overcome and questions remain as to how sustainable it will be to shift to biofuels at the scale the aviation industry required. Trials have been going on for a number of years, including a well publicised Virgin Atlanctic 747-400 flight back in 2008.
Our view: this remains a challenge for the industry and the pressure from governments is not going to subside.
The aviation industry is one of the worst-hit sectors by the pandemic. This is mainly because of social distancing measures that have been implemented to curb the transmission of Covid-19. The air travel industry has always been about large gatherings and close interaction between passengers and staff, but this will likely change post-Covid-19. Travelers will be reluctant to sit next to strangers on a flight or will avoid domestic flights altogether in favor of road trips or self-driving options.
To adapt to these new requirements, the aviation industry will have to adopt a more flexible approach. This may mean that airlines offer uniquely designed packages for each traveler depending on their budget, needs, and expectations. These packages would include offers such as business class seats being sold at reduced prices with guaranteed social distancing, or discounted offers for family vacations that guarantee an empty row on a flight so as not to come into contact with other passengers while traveling.
As travel begins to recover, physical distancing will remain an important consideration at airports and during flights. This means fewer passengers, which in turn means higher costs for the airlines. As a result, the cost of travel for consumers is likely to increase.
New aircraft technologies are helping to address this problem by allowing airlines to carry more passengers at once and make better use of their space. The Airbus A350 has large windows, more overhead storage space and wider aisles than previous generations of aircrafts. Other new features include touch screens in the back of every seat that can be used for ordering food or entertainment; however, this will also require further adaptation from airports and airlines as they grapple with how best to keep these surfaces clean during the boarding process.
Prior to COVID-19, there was quite a drive for airliners to differentiate themselves by offering premium-like services as a standard, to enhance customer experience. Whereas the current need seems to be driving to budget airlines, even “ultra low cost carriers”. Considering the challenges airlines are currently facing, will the ‘premium-as-a- standard’ service offering still remain a priority for airlines to pursue?
There is no doubt that Covid had changed the world as we knew it, as it brought numerous challenges to many thriving industries. As new challenges arise, so do new opportunities.
We pride ourselves on providing our clients with unique airport engineering solutions, and believe that Nurizon is well positioned and equipped to support these clients as they work to overcome these challenges brought on by the pandemic, and to continue thriving in a post-pandemic world.