Future of aviation

The future of aviation – post- Covid-19

Martina Roters
26.10.2020
6 minutes

“The future of aviation” – in this topic we have so far mostly focused on technical innovations that made enthusiasts’ hearts beat faster, according to the motto: The sky is the limit!

But with Covid-19, the proverbial sky has darkened, worldwide worse than the largest volcanic ash cloud ever could have done.

The development of the aviation industry: V, U, W or L?

No matter what numbers the graphs are based on: flights, production figures, jobs

Experts use letters to refer to typical curves:

While at the beginning they were still hoping that the crisis would take a V-shaped course, i.e. a steep downturn and then a steep upswing again, it became clear as early as spring that, after air traffic had almost completely come to a standstill, a U-shape would have been the most conceivable option for the future of aviation.

At the moment, however, this has already been overcome and at best a W-curve is considered likely: a crash, resurgence, possibly a renewed downturn due to a second wave of infection and only then a recovery.

The gloomiest prospect is of course the L-curve: After the crass slump, the sector is bobbing along at a consistently low level. For example, management consultants Roland Berger have published a possible recession scenario in which the “new normal” will not be reached until the 2022 summer flight timetable and passenger volumes will only reach 80 percent of their pre-crisis level.

Million of jobs at risk

Although no airline in Europe has yet filed for bankruptcy due to Covid-19 thanks to state aid, according to IATA (the umbrella organization of the airlines) a total of almost 6 million jobs are at risk in Europe alone and among the airlines alone, with Germany as number four:

Current forecasts – Future of aviation

The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization of the UN) updated its forecast on September 16 and expects the following decreases in passenger numbers (compared to 2019):

For 2020

47 to 50 percent less, in absolute figures: a minus of between 2.6 and 2.75 billion passengers.

For the 1st quarter 2021

19 to 40 percent less, in absolute figures: a drop of between 302 and 554 million passengers.

With specific respect to the airlines, this means the following loss of income on the various continents:

Calculated in billion $, source ICAO
Africa – 10
Asia – 86
Europe – 67
South America – 19
Near East – 15
North America – 61

The ICAO report, which is updated regularly, can be found here.

The circle of those affected is large: not only airlines, which have been singled out as examples here, but also the entire aircraft construction industry and its suppliers, and of course the entire airports, along with the infrastructure dependent on them, are currently being driven into the red.

Behind these frightening figures are people whose life’s dreams are shattered – or never even begin – as is the case with all those whose pilot or flight attendant training has already been discontinued.

Which factors affect the development?

Of course, the direct pandemic development is decisive: How long will there be “risk areas” and “entry bans”, which of course have a direct impact on air traffic.

It is not only the development of the pandemic itself that is the determining factor. There are also secondary factors:

Future of aviation

We would like to pick out the last aspect, because findings have been published in the meantime:

How high is the real risk of infection in aircraft?

“For a short visit to the bakery with a 1.50 m mandatory distance is one thing – but squashed into the cabins like sardines? – Not with me!” – This is how the opinion of many potential air passengers can be summarized.

On the other hand, there is the official announcement of the IATA (International Air Transport Association), which has not changed since May 5:

Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low. And we will take measures – such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew – to add extra layers of protection.

Alexandre de Juniac, CEO IATA

There is a report by IATA on medical evidence dated August 6, 2020, which supports this assessment.

The core statement is that – apart from individual cases – there is only one case so far – a long-haul flight from the UK to Vietnam – where there have been multiple infections, and that a second one is still under investigation.

Why is the risk of infection when flying relatively low?

There are several hypotheses:

On August 25, a German research team published the scientific analysis of a case from March 9: probably two people were infected, who had travelled 4 hours 40 minutes from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt, while a group of 7 infected persons was on board. Important note: At that time, however, no one was wearing masks.

That the hygiene concept plays a role can be proven according to a report in the Guardian about a flight from Greece to Great Britain on September 1, where, according to press reports, there were 16 Covid-19 cases, seven of which were probably already infected before boarding. Apparently many passengers had not followed the hygiene rules and were not warned by the crew (“…took off their masks and walked up and down the aisle to talk to friends”).

As the reports on this vacation return flight show, journalists would certainly have reported in great detail on other “Covid-19 hotspots” in airline passenger traffic.

In view of the low number of cases, the controversy over whether the on-board air has now OP quality and renews itself every 3 minutes – as the airlines maintain – or exchanges itself only every 15 minutes completely, as professor Scholz of the HAW Hamburg calculated, is, however, only of secondary importance.

How to reduce your personal risk of infection

The most dangerous moments are apparently waiting at the gate and boarding and deboarding the aircraft (because the protective effect of the air conditioning is not yet or no longer effective): So it would be fatal to think: Why should I keep my distance when I am sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Some airlines offer this service now, for the full or a reduced price – but watch out, take a close look! The devil is in the details, because most of the time there are availability restrictions.

It’s quite possible that the airlines are also starting to rethink: Delta Airlines pushes forward: The middle seats remain free and flights with lower occupancy rates will continue to be offered until 2021. They will react flexibly to the booking density and, if necessary, use a larger aircraft type to ensure that the aircraft is only moderately filled. This will win back sceptical clientele and set you apart from the competition.

Does the future of aviation perhaps look like this?

by Martina Roters

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