What To Expect from the Aviation Industry Over the Next Decade
January 3, 2023
Simple Flying (Charlotte Seet)
The global aviation industry has experienced severe turbulence in the past few years and has been rushing to recover promptly in this year's post-pandemic era. Now that the aviation industry has stably flown through this storm, what lies ahead for the industry in the next decade? Let's discuss the possible trends.
- Pilot shortages will continue
Traveling this year has been incredibly disappointing and hectic for thousands of passengers, as they are often met with unexpected and rather sudden flight cancelations, delays, and misplaced and lost baggage. Rebookings have also become equally stressful for passengers as they'll subsequently be dealt with limited next-flight-out options.
But how has air travel become so chaotic this year? The answer lies in a prolonged problem, the aviation industry is more short-staffed than ever, an unfortunate consequence of the massive layoffs conducted during the pandemic. The staffing shortages have affected nearly every aspect of the industry, ranging from ground staff, airline and airport personnel, and even air traffic controllers.
However, the issue of pilot shortage is becoming more prominent than ever, with airlines such as United Airlines starting their own flight academy as a solution. And if a pilot crunch wasn't significant enough, fatigue, poor pay rates, and overscheduling have also become serious pairing concerns. As the aviation industry continues to evolve, the demand will continue to outpace the growth of pilots.
- Single-pilot operations will not happen
There's been an ongoing heated debate over single-pilot operations in commercial aviation. Still, it's doubtful that such practices will ever be adopted by airlines, even if it does reduce operating expenses and could help with the pilot shortage issue. Although new-generation aircraft technology has advanced to sophisticated levels of automation, there is still too much at risk.
The risks of being over-reliant on technology are something that has bitten the industry many times and cost an unfortunate amount of innocent lives. There's also the risk of the single pilot suddenly becoming incapacitated, or how having just one person operating the flight deck increases the risk of terrorists becoming more daring to commit crimes.
As attractive as the concept of single-pilot operations may be for the pilot shortage issue, such ideas should only be implemented if the current level of safety is not compromised in any way and instead should be enhanced. And security is one of the most notable factors in the aviation industry, which is why single-pilot operations for commercial aviation will not happen in the next decade.
- Quicker adoption of technological advances
Although technology adoption has always been inevitable for the future, the pandemic certainly sped things up with an increase in self-service platforms and electronic boarding systems. The trend will continue into the next decade when the evolution of passenger services becomes a self-operation with biometrics and cloud technology, whereby passengers will perform all services till boarding on their own, and the airport can still track every movement.
Some airlines have already started implementing Electronic Flight bags (EFBs) for their pilots. However, the trend is sure to become more popular as the technology evolves, allowing pilots to better perform basic flight planning calculations with a greater variety of digital documentation. Artificial Intelligence (AI) could also be implemented in commercial aircraft flight decks to aid pilots in situational awareness or precision control. Still, it will not be kicking pilots out of the flight deck.
Considering net-zero emissions by 2050, adopting Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) and green aircraft technology will begin to penetrate deeper into the market. New engine core concepts and retrofitted or blended wing designs are also expected to come out within the next decade, as they bring higher fuel efficiency benefits when compared to changing the aircraft design, aerodynamics, or systems.
- Electric aircraft will take flight
The timeline for electric aircraft in commercial aviation might still be in the late infancy stages now, but they have already been given the green light to fly. Manufacturers such as Archer, Heart Aerospace and Eve Air Mobility have already received significant orders from major carriers such as United Airlines, Air Canada, and Icelandair for electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL).
Aircraft and cabin designs from the many manufacturers have already been produced, with some already having test flown their prototype aircraft after receiving piloted permits from the relevant authorities. For some manufacturers, their electrical products are likely to take off in 2028 or even earlier if all tests, certifications, and building of infrastructures carry on smoothly.
With the speed at which the urban air mobility revolution is going, it's plausible that the manufacturers' estimation will become a reality within the decade. Passengers could be hopping on electric flying aircraft - or flying taxis as they would be called, to get between cities to beat the congested airport and rush-hour traffic on the highways.
- The presence of small, city-like airports
Let's face it, no one fancies the large crowds and queues at big international airports. Even the smaller regional airports are beginning to get congested as passengers shift towards them in hopes of fewer disruptions. With the progression of urban air mobility expected to further within the next decade, the use of current airports as vertiports for electric aircraft is certainly not as feasible in the long run.
This is where the trend for smaller, city-like airports worldwide will gain traction to cater to urban air mobility specifically. Essentially, the airport is like its own ecosystem of a multimodal advanced air mobility port. It can, and will eventually be, built onshore on islands, building rooftops or smaller urban areas, or even offshore where ferries will transport passengers from the port to land.
Besides being an airport for electric aircraft operations, the smaller airports are likely to house the command, control, cargo, and recharging areas as well. So besides being multimodal, it's also multi-functional. Some of these urban airports are already currently being constructed within cities, with a few set to be completed within the next few years.
- Regional airlines could face a steep decline
What once was the critical backbone of domestic and regional air transportation systems has now, and will likely continue to, become entirely forgotten in its decline. Regional airlines have been under plenty of pressure, as the pilot shortage issue affects them the hardest, especially since pilots would instead sign with a big low-cost carrier or a full-cost carrier for higher salaries.
There's also the rising threat of existing, and new low-cost carriers, and even leisure or hybrid carriers, which are taking up all types of routes to get their share of any market. These airlines also offer relatively competitive cabin products, giving full-cost carriers a serious flight for their profits. In response, the bigger full-cost carriers have been trying to launch new routes., which are typically operated through feeder service by the regional carriers.
However, full-cost carriers would profit more if they operated these routes by themselves, compared to feeding through smaller airlines. As a result, the regional carriers have lesser flights to service. Pretty soon, the increasing cost of operations will outweigh the profits earned from the few services they can offer, forcing several regional carriers to file for bankruptcy and become totally redundant.
- Business travel could have a new look
When air travel rebounded this year, the demand for leisure routes recovered relatively quickly, and airlines quickly provided a growing supply. However, business travel has yet to return to half of the pre-pandemic levels, and a decline within the next decade is likely inevitable for various reasons.
The most significant is how the pandemic altered how several businesses operate, with remote work becoming increasingly popular to disregard the need for travel. But still, some companies would have travel commitments, which is where the new look of business travel comes in with the rise of 'bleisure' travel.
Yes, 'bleisure' travel is when passengers combine business commitments with non-work itineraries on the same trip to maximize vacation time. Rather than waiting for the long-scheduled summer or winter vacation period, passengers are more likely to book a 'bleisure' trip, given the added flexibility where they need not wait till peak seasons to pay fuller airfare prices.
- Premium economy will be the new business class
The likely increasing trend of 'bleisure' travelers goes hand in hand with the possible rising popularity of premium economy cabins. Airlines have gradually started getting rid of their long-haul first class cabin, and business class cabins have become more luxurious to fill in the gaps. Business class has become the new first class, considering the lack of deviation with lie-flat beds and privacy screens.
Without a business class cabin doing what it was initially designed to address and with a higher price point, this is where the popularity of premium economy will start to increase. Some airlines' premium economy cabins already feature greater reclines and larger entertainment screens besides extra legroom. Some also serve complimentary champagne, further reducing the deviation between premium economy and business class.
A premium economy airfare would better fit budgets than business class cabins, and the extra legroom over the economy cabin is enough to incentivize passengers. Full-cost carriers, even low-cost carriers, are likely to start investing in premium economy cabins if they haven't already. Although certain lounge access is already available with some airlines, dedicated lounges solely for premium economy passengers will also become a trend in the next decade.
- A shift in the world's market dynamics
Over the past decade, the Asia-Pacific region was forecasted to become the quickest worldwide regarding airline activity. The region was previously expected to account for 40% of future airline productions, and although the pandemic has slowed the pace down, the numbers have changed to 45%. And while China will still remain the most significant market within Asia-Pacific when it reopens, new contenders have entered the playing field.
India, currently the world's third-largest aviation market, is still relatively under-penetrated compared to China. However, this will likely change within the next decade as the Indian aviation industry blossoms. Aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus and Boeing have also taken an added interest in India, especially for supply chain productions of aircraft engines, SAF, and even aerospace defense systems.
Another likely contender within the region in the next decade is Indonesia. The country is set to become the world's fourth-largest aviation market by 2030. It currently boasts more than 30 international and over 200 domestic airports, with the government's plan to open at least five more. Indonesia is also home to Lion Air, the second largest Southeast Asian low-cost carrier behind AirAsia.