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If one were to scan the progress of air travel over the past 100 years, they would view a picture of great progress. Though at times this progress was made at a slow but steady pace, it often grew by leaps and bounds due to advances in both technology and training. During this blog, we’ll look at several current aviation trends and their impact upon its future.
While the civil aviation industry continues to maintain both profits and growth, it is still sensitive to a number of market drivers. For example, the world economy is expected to grow at a mid-range pace over the next twenty years. Oil prices are now approaching the $70 per barrel price range, but they could reach as high as $100 per barrel by 2030. Many airlines are now adopting a culture based upon financial management, in which the emphasis is on per-passenger profits. While discount fare and other incentive programs support revenue growth, they create a situation of a high number of passengers at a low profit per passenger. To remedy this, airlines in the future will invest in a growing number of right-sized aircraft to increase per passenger profit yields. Over the past three years, per passenger profit yields have decreased by $3 per passenger, while net profit across the airline industry has decreased by 1% over the past two years. The use of right-sized aircraft will partially reduce the need for sweeping fare discounts in order to fill an aircraft.
In 2016 approximately 80% of all global air routes were composed of regional air traffic. The regional air route segment is currently experiencing the greatest growth, with increases of five per cent, per year anticipated over the next twenty years. While these routes generate the greatest per passenger yield, they are mostly served by older aircraft having a 20 to 60 passenger capacity. As these aircraft are retired, they will need to upgrade both their technology and capacity. The latest trend in regional air routes is the paired city concept. Many aircraft servicing these routes have a capacity of 100-150 seats with relatively high per passenger profit yields. Globally, regional air traffic has increased by twenty per cent over the past two decades and is projected to increase at least that amount over the next twenty years, according a number of air traffic studies. In China, the government encourages the city-pair concept to stimulate growth in low volume markets, while Russia and Africa have increased city-pair traffic in recent years. Hubs will become less important as global point-to-point traffic increases.
Along with changes in aircraft, look for changes in the design of airports. The staffing of airports could shrink due to improvements in technology and safety. The future trend for airports is one of a travel experience, as opposed to a mere transit point. They now offer dining, shopping, and a number of activities. With the current technology of airport processes, passengers now have more leisure time, and this pattern is expected to increase in the future. With increased passenger traffic, airports will increase in both size and profitability. In the United States, the FAA mandated Next Gen system, replacing ground-based airspace navigation to a satellite-based system which uses GPS should offer more precise navigation and traffic control at major airports, streamlining air traffic.
A negative factor of air travel in its environmental impact. Global aviation is responsible for about two per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions-a situation projected to get worse over the coming decades. While airlines and governments are acting to reduce some of the impact, limited success has been achieved so far. However, one must realize that fuel represents 30% to 40% of an airlines operating costs, putting airlines in the position of developing more fuel efficient aircraft. For example, the Boeing 737 MAX series of jetliners have winglets designed to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency by as much as 2%. Such a small amount could add up to millions of dollars over the service life of an aircraft. Attacking the problem from the other end, an increasing number of airlines have begun to use biofuel mixtures in their operations. Biofuels, which are both more efficient and emit less carbon than fossil fuels, have been phased into service by several major airlines. United Airlines partnered with the AltAir refinery to provide biofuel to the airline’s hub at Los Angeles, purchasing fifteen million gallons at a 30% blend over a three-year period. Though not a substantial proportion based upon current airline usage, the United effort holds promise for the future.
Finally, despite the marketing tools of economy airlines and discounted fares, airlines still generate a healthy profit from business and first class passengers. By offering the soft amenities such as meal service and amenity kits, airlines are able to market their in-flight experience. To enhance that experience a number of airlines partner with celebrity chefs, such as Daniel Boulud (Air France) to create specialized menus or contract with outside brands, such as TUMI, to provide upscale amenity kits. This practice will continue to grow, for those who can afford the tickets, the sky is the limit.
Tragic as the events of September 11, 2001, were, they forced a needed examination of global aviation security. In this blog, we’ll look at both current problems and approaches to enhance the security of global air travel.
Since the 1970s, trade, technology, and economic growth have merged to form a state of globalization, in which the welfare of people, firms, and nations have become ever more interconnected. Concurrently, civil aviation has evolved from a heavily regulated system of government-sponsored air services and airports to an increasingly competitive global structure, in which private organizations compete with their publicly held counterparts. Global air traffic has increased exponentially over the last forty-five years, in spite of economic recessions, military conflicts, health epidemics and acts of terror. Due to the nature of its operations, civil aviation has always been a target for violent acts. The first violent incidents involving civil airliners were hijack attempts, which began in the 1960s. By the late 1970s, these were on the decline due to international treaties and plain-clothed security personnel on board the aircraft. During the 1980s bomb attacks designed to draw attention were on the rise, decreasing in later decades. By the 1990s, aviation security had evolved into a complex system combining intelligence agencies and airport security personnel coupled with electronic devices from which to detect, bombs, weapons and prohibited items.
The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 were the most graphic example of the ever-evolving threat of terror attacks against aviation. The attacks demonstrated how civil aircraft could be used as weapons to kill large numbers of civilians and destroy assets on the ground. Since that time governments have created a number of new organizations to direct airport security systems, as well as massive investments in both technology and personnel. Though both airlines and airports have faced challenges resulting from heightened security efforts, the traveling public has been willing to bear them to promote a secure travel environment.
Today, there are several factors affecting the security of global aviation. Technology is rapidly enabling the ability of terror groups and other bad players to inflict large-scale damage. While the capability for such efforts has been confined to a few major nations, such technology is now available to a number of non-state organizations. The merging of cyber and physical capabilities are creating new security issues. One only need to see a virtual reality game to understand how closely simulations can approximate real-world situations. Many systems in civil aviation such as traffic management systems, passport control system, departure control systems, hazardous materials transport and reservation systems are all vulnerable to outside hacking. Computerized aircraft flight systems pose an equally serious threat. GPS navigation systems, fuel control systems, flight control and maintenance only serve to increase the points of cyber vulnerability. As aviation becomes more computerized, human proficiency becomes less effective. Though automated systems are becoming more flexible to handle a variety of situations, minimizing human involvement. However, when humans have less opportunity to practice and develop skills, they become less capable of acting in a timely and appropriate manner when emergencies arise. Perhaps the most vulnerable points in many automated systems are those in which humans interact with automated programs.
However, a number of solutions are available to enhance global flight security. There is currently too much emphasis on molding new problems into existing regulations. As is often the case, by the time new policies are formulated, a new threat has arisen. Global aviation firms should adopt a philosophy of thinking like the terrorist, rather than relying upon yesterday’s doctrine to meet future attacks. In the realm of cybersecurity, firms must enhance their understanding of threats by testing their systems by in-house or outside consultants, tailoring their systems to meet the threats. Firms should cooperate on both cyber and physical security threats, as cooperation makes everyone stronger. Any would be hacker will always probe for the weakest link. Real and potential vulnerabilities should be shared between companies. Finally, airlines need to rethink border security, in the digital sense. While the number of remote attacks has increased in recent years, air safety is improved by a thorough knowledge of passengers – an area in which more capable programs are needed.
Civil aviation is a key element of the global economy and any event, whether accidental or intentional, has a direct bearing on the media. With new technology promoting the rapid transfer of information, it will continue to be a likely target for those who want to cause maximum disruption.