The Dynamic Evolution of Aviation

Dr. Patricia Ryan


February 3, 2021

Midway skyline view

Our aviation world has always been dynamic however we are evolving at a dramatic pace given events in the past year.  Part of the challenge of dealing with these changes is remaining flexible and embracing change by the entire aviation industry.  Airports, airlines and business partners have all changed their business models and are evolving into new models of sustainability. Impact of Traffic on World ACI issued an advisory bulletin in December 2020 highlighting the impact of COVID19 on the airport business and provided their latest estimates regarding the impact on passenger traffic by region resulting in increasing awareness in the following regional impacts as of December, 2020.  ACI regions are noted below that relate to the change in traffic statistics. Improvement in passenger traffic is not expected until perhaps the fourth quarter of 2021. ACI World forecasted short term global passenger traffic (2019=100%) with growth beginning in 2020, continuing at a much higher rate of increase than experienced from 2015 to 2020. Improvement in passenger traffic is not expected until perhaps the fourth quarter of 2021. ACI World forecasted short term global passenger traffic (2019=100%) with growth beginning in 2020, continuing at a much higher rate of increase than experienced from 2015 to 2020. Aviation Business Model Dynamic The airport business model of aeronautical revenues and non-aeronautical revenues which was headed to more of a 50:50 relationship of airport dependence upon these two revenues is changing.  Airports have further evolved temporarily into cargo centers more than passenger centers as traffic diminished and cargo increased. Concessions within the terminal were closed and have reopened in a different business model with technology providing apps to order food and have it delivered to the passenger at the gates and fewer “hard walls” replaced with kiosks and/or mobile food trucks.  Chicago launched, as an example, GoEatMDW which is a mobile food ordering service at the Chicago Midway International Airport that doesn’t require a mobile app.  Participating airport food deliver the meal or have the pickup by the traveler ready. Passengers get a notice on their mobile device when the meal is ready or being delivered. Health Travel Pass Efforts are being coordinated through organizations such as IATA with the new travel pass mobile app which was designed to help passengers navigate COVID19 travel restrictions and security share test and vaccine certifications in an effort to promote international travel. Etihad and Emirates are testing this concept and expect to use this digital health passport in the first quarter of 2021. Technology Advances Airports have reduced staff and budgets resulting in sustainability of airports with innovative technology and processes being embraced such as creating remote baggage drop locations, more communication via the website, airport/airline app, and social media to assure passengers of a seamless safe journey through the airport.   The touchless technology using biometrics, advance online check-in and bag tag preparation, and security check-in processes have already been adapted by many airports.  The technology at many airports has been advanced faster than any of us would have imagined possible through better cooperative planning and implementation by all industry partners. Reliance on Non-Passenger Generated Revenue Airports are re-examining resources such as real estate property on airport to identify additional sources of revenue.  One example is Zurich Airport which opened its new Circle district in September 2020 to create a better balance of passenger-related revenue with more non-passenger revenue (cargo, landside retail and real estate). Terminal Concession Changes Additionally, airports are rethinking their passenger terminal design to allow more flexibility for concessionaires and themselves in providing passengers desired services.  Architects will be challenged to move from the beautiful “big boxes” to a more flexible concept allowing mobile food units throughout the airport as required by the traffic in various locations, for example.  Airport concessions may depend less on “hard walls” design and less time on the contract for concepts with less requirements for in-terminal solid wall construction. International airport such as Amsterdam had already created that design.  Some airports, for example, offer masks via a vending machine. Social Media Dynamics A heavier reliance on all social media sources to fulfil passenger’s preferences has been on the rise.  One of the issues is that social media can be used in the event of a crisis or disruption as an effective means for people to express themselves and airports must be aware of comments that they may be able to address. Airports have been analyzing social media for years, using word clouds to describe passenger preferences, etc.; however, IATA notes three drivers of evolution of social media which must be considered now by airports as they use social media platforms as a means of messaging, responding to social media comments, and listening to the passenger: Restart of Aviation Community The aviation industry is creating a restart plan with most aviation industry partners agreeing on what it will take to gain passenger confidence to regain traffic. IATA noted the Industry Restart Plan for 2021: Technology is dynamic and moving fast; passenger demographics indicate that attention spans are lessening so it will be important to grab passengers’ attention quicker with condensed information.  The aviation industry will be even more dynamic with the continued expansion of technology and reliance on devices rather than humans.  The aviation industry will continue to evolve to provide even better travel environments and better customer experiences.