AVIATION HAS A FUTURE
Aviation has faced a number of challenges over the years; financial, technical, people (enough passengers and aircrew), as well as a global pandemic. In spite of , or because of, the previous factors, the aviation industry is subject to change. During the course of this blog, we will prove aviation is still capable of change by design, rather than by disaster.
Historically, the progress and development of transportation provided a roadmap for the development of civilization as a whole. In current times, aviation and air transport have had the same effects. Man fantasized for centuries about being able to fly. Flying became the dream and the myth of mankind until it finally became reality. Aviation technology has experienced rapid growth during wartime, translating to economic pursuits in peacetime. The benefits of this technology are many, such as satellite based technologies for airspace navigation and air traffic control, in addition to communication technologies and surveillance radars and improved aircraft engines. The air transport industry has been able to capitalize on these wartime technologies by gradually integrating them into a performance-based, commercially viable and market-responsive system operating in a competitive global environment.
Technology is once again shaping how aviation and air transport influence today's world and the global civilization of the early 21st century. Both automation and a more extensive use of advanced digital communications and computer technologies are streamlining air traffic control and navigation, as well as airlines operations management and marketing. The Internet is fast becoming today's time-to-market accelerator, with instantaneous marketing and purchasing of products further reducing the time between order and receipt of goods purchased. Intermodal transport, the integration of rail, water, air and land transport, provides a truly seamless transport mode. In the 21st century, the maximum connectivity between producers and consumers insures success in the marketplace. The airlines answer to this environment is the provision of multi-modal door-to-door service. In this new situation, success requires common systems (scheduling, reservations, air service, etc.) and more focused efforts to compete and cooperate as appropriate. In this environment, marketplace consolidation will occur whereby global air carrier alliances, both airline and cargo, will replace individual national carriers. With the more advanced technologies adopted for airspace navigation such as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, area navigation, air traffic management systems and airport ground control, the aviation and air transport system of the 21st century will be harmonized, safer and more efficient.
Factors affecting air traffic include gross domestic product (GDP), population growth, political stability, amount of leisure time and market access. Business travel is especially sensitive to fluctuations, which has a huge impact on airline revenues. Since the airlines' inventory is comprised only of the seats that it has on each flight, this instability of its services makes the industry quite vulnerable to external crises. With airlines dependent on cash-flow, they are often only marginally profitable even in good years. While the growth of air travel has historically been approximately twice that of global GDP growth, the civil aviation industry has experienced a number of crises since 2000, a notable one being the terrorist attacks of 9/11. These attacks had a devastating effect on air travel. US airspace was closed for a week and international travel was severely limited. Available seats for flights during the winter of 2001-02 were down on both transatlantic and trans-Pacific routes, with American carriers reducing more capacity than their European counterparts. Thus, US airlines were faced with two major problems: what was the airlines' liability for these kinds of attacks and would insurers be willing to underwrite future policies for the airlines? Fortunately, a law was passed in 2001to limit airlines' legal liabilities and to provide them with direct assistance. European airlines had approximately 30,000 job cuts after the 9/11 attacks, amounting to ten per cent of their workforce. North American airlines cut 95,000 jobs (20 per cent of their workforce) along with 8,000 ground workers. Aircraft manufacturers also suffered with Boeing laying off 18,000 workers and Airbus 2,000. Fuel prices had increased markedly along with a decrease in customer satisfaction. A number of aviation firms took a more creative approach to limit consequences for their workers, such as pay cuts, reduced working time and shared working time. During 2002-03 the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) caused more damage to air transport than 9/11 and the Iraq war combined.
When the COVID-19 virus reached a large scale in early 2020, it almost completely grounded air traffic operations. In countries under lockdowns, flight operations dropped well below 10% for many months. The aviation industry as a whole could be operating at a reduced capacity for the next three years, as the tourism sector faces a prolonged global crisis. Workers in the aviation industry, as well as communities dependent upon tourism have been among the hardest hit. Despite governmental bailouts in both the US and Europe, at least 400,000 workers have already been terminated or are in jeopardy, with many of those who remain facing permanent pay cuts and rewritten contracts with less attractive conditions. The unfortunate truth is a number of airlines have exploited the pandemic to impose conditions and terms which further disadvantage workers. Creating equitable work situation alternatives is challenging for most airlines at best. The long-term question is : Does it make sense to subsidize airlines and airports to maintain an oversized workforce for years? Or, should the subsidy be directed to assist employees who drop out of the industry to find decent climate jobs? Instead, government subsidies should serve a two-fold purpose, to meet the basic needs of the aviation industry and that which meets the needs of those leaving the aviation sector, such as providing an adequate wage and social services during their transition to alternate industries. Coupled with these efforts, retraining programs as well as the creation of jobs in climate-safe sectors could have a positive environmental impact.
In spite of a number of setbacks, the aviation industry has a lot going for it. For example, in 2017 global airlines carried around 4.1 billion passengers. During that same year, they transported 56 million tons of freight on 37 million commercial flights. In just one day, aviation transports over 10 million passengers and about USD 18 billion worth of goods. While aviation represents 3.5 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) globally, it also creates 65 million jobs. Aviation has become the facilitator of global business and recognized as such by the United Nations in its global economic goals. The aviation industry is growing about twice as fast as the average global GDP, with a projected average growth rate of 4.3% per year for the next twenty years. By the mid 2030's, some 200,000 flights per day are expected globally-twice the rate of today. Statistically, 74% of the global population lives within 32 miles of an airport. Emerging technologies such as the internet, robotics, artificial intelligence, unmanned, hybrid aircraft and electric aircraft have changed the face of aviation. Alternative fuels, such as biofuels, have made an impact in recent years. In just one-hundred years, not much time in the scheme of things, aviation has progressed from a single flight to more than 100,000 flights per day. Aviation continues to lead the world in technology innovation, as well as the safest mode of transport.