First published as an expert opinion in Low-Cost & Regional Airline Business| AUTUMN 2020
By Jeremy Bowen, CEO, Cirium
At the height of the Covid-19 crisis, on 17 April 2020, two thirds of the world’s jet fleet was grounded; some may never take off again. We’ve seen airlines go bust, while stories about bankruptcy protection and government bailouts continue to lead the news agenda. As carriers burn through cash at a phenomenal rate, schedules have been slashed and staff furloughed.
But the aviation industry has a proven record of resilience. While some airlines will go out of business, those that survive can pick up extra slots at airports, face less competition on routes and adopt more advanced technology. The data around coronavirus gives valuable insights for businesses planning recovery, such as when to rotate aircraft and how to bring jets back into service efficiently.
As of 6 August, two thirds of the global passenger fleet was back in service, with domestic markets picking up and ‘travel bubbles’ emerging, but it’s not easy to return aircraft to service in such large volumes in such a short period of time. The challenge is compounded by constantly changing government travel restrictions. The effects ricochet across the entire industry, impacting everyone from airlines and manufacturers to MROs and the wider supply chain.
Meanwhile, it’s difficult for the sector to forecast demand as consumer confidence stays down. One way to manage this travel disruption is to tap into the value of data and analytics – learning from real-time updates and historical data patterns and modelling. Not everything is controllable, but we can gain more control through a research-driven response.
Even before the pandemic, many companies had started to use data to deliver real-time alerts and proactively manage flight disruption. Intelligent data capabilities enable airlines to enhance the traveler experience, even when they can’t control all the aspects of that travel. This is now more critical than ever as companies seek to rebuild consumer confidence.
Digital transformation is not only key to restoring this trust, but also improving how we travel. The pandemic has exposed areas are ripe for change and, if there’s any silver lining, will accelerate the digitalization of the end-to-end traveler journey. Using data and analytics, companies can better understand a traveler’s needs, monitor consumer trends and identify potential new markets and revenue streams. Airports can harness contactless technologies to enable mobile-enabled journeys and a ‘low-touch’ traveler experience, alleviating germaphobia among passengers. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will also play a pivotal role, as airlines and the air travel market embrace machine learning to grow more efficient. However, if we’re to effectively implement smart analytics and AI, we must ensure the industry data that already exists flows more freely between partners.
Cirium is currently working with companies to improve data fluency and illustrate the benefits for the future of air travel. By accelerating the adoption of data and technology, we can begin to pinpoint those areas where innovation is long overdue. For example, the need for more self-serve tools, robotics and automated processes to enhance traveler safety in the ‘new normal’.
Based on IATA’s prediction of a 48 per cent drop in air traffic this year, we project at least seven years of passenger traffic growth will be wiped out in 2020. But we’re confident that the industry will recover as it has done before – smarter, and more digitally capable than ever.