Safety and trust are clear requirements for the air transport industry to rise, but innovation is seen as playing an important role in its transformation

7 May, 2020

As they plan their journey out of the current coronavirus crisis, airlines, airports, and other air transport industry stakeholders are emphasising total safety and trust building as central to their recovery strategies.

From an investment standpoint, they will prioritise digital transformation, automation, sustainability, innovation, and customer experience following the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report jointly undertaken and released this week by Fast Future, Future Travel Experience (FTE), and the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX).

The ‘Covid-19 Air Transport Near Term Impacts and Scenarios report’, which is the first instalment of a four-part Air Transport 2035 series, explores how air transport industry stakeholders expect the Covid-19 crisis to impact passenger volumes and investment strategies.

A global survey conducted as part of the report found that over the next two years 68.4% of respondents expect investment in digital transformation to increase; 60.3% expect investment in automation and the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to rise; and 54.2% expect spending to increase on sustainability and environmental initiatives.

Additionally, more than half (53.5%) expect investment in innovation to increase during the same period, and 48.5% expect to see an upturn in customer experience and service spending, with less than a quarter (22.9%) expecting investment in this area to fall.

At the other end of the scale, three-quarters (75.5%) of survey respondents expect investment in aircraft orders to decrease over the next two years, while 55.3% expect to see a decrease in terminal design and construction spend.

During a webinar in late Apr-2020, which included the unveiling of the initial survey results, a live poll of the 900-plus attendees found that 44% of respondents expect it to take up to two years for the air transport industry to return to 2019 levels of business, and a further 36% expect it to take three years. Only 6% expect the industry to recover to 2019 levels within 12 months.

Another live poll during the webinar found that 39% of respondents expect the public to feel comfortable flying again once new procedures are introduced to protect passengers. 32% expect consumer confidence to return once a Covid-19 vaccine is disseminated; 11% expect people will only fly if they have to; and 10% expect World Health Organization (WHO) advice to dictate when people will feel comfortable flying again.

The report designed four scenarios for how the industry might emerge from the pandemic and ‘survival of the safest’ (a deep recession and fragmented industry response) was ranked the most likely by 32% of respondents.

This was followed by ‘love in cold climate’ (a deep recession and co-ordinated industry response) with 30% of the votes, while 20% selected ‘hope and glory’ (robust and integrated economic recovery and fragmented industry response). The scenario considered least likely and selected by just 18% was the most optimistic one of ‘sealed and secure’ (a robust and integrated economic recovery and co-ordinated industry response).