Ma Tao, Regional Vice President, North Asia, believes that air travel in the region will continue to grow and maximize its potential despite temporary challenges

The future of the North Asia region is bright. Forecasts suggest that its main component, China, will replace the United States as the world’s largest aviation market at some point in the mid-2020s. By 2037, China alone will have 1 billion new passengers for a total of 1.6 billion.

The completion of Beijing’s Daxing International Airport and plans for a three-runway system in Hong Kong highlight the forward-looking steps being taken to ensure capacity is available to support the anticipated growth in demand in the region.

Nonetheless there are challenges. The China-United States trade dispute continues to be felt by aviation globally, including in North Asia. Air cargo volumes in the past 12 months have seen year-on-year declines. And the temporary shutdown of Hong Kong International Airport —a major regional cargo hub—a few months ago and the continuing tensions there exacerbate the pressure.

But these issues are expected to be temporary blips in the increasing popularity of air transport for both passengers and cargo in the region. There is a need therefore to continue preparing for future opportunities as aviation’s center of gravity shifts east.

Safety is a top priority. 2018 was another year of zero jet or turboprop hull losses in North Asia. That achievement is the result of the hard work and collaboration of all partners in the aviation value chain.

We are also strengthening our cooperation with the regulators in the region through memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on safety with China, Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR), Mongolia, and recently Hong Kong SAR.

Growth also needs to be sustainable. Aviation plays a key role in connecting people and businesses throughout the world. Unlike more mature aviation markets, however, North Asia’s public perception of flying is still positive. We must not take that for granted. The entire value chain has a responsibility to ensure the public is aware of the facts about our sustainability efforts. Government support is equally vital, especially to make sustainable aviation fuels commercially viable.

Innovative use of technology is another strength of the region. Emerging technologies, new business models, and reshaped processes are all being tested here and can inform best practice worldwide. Take, for example, the electronic boarding pass project in China for domestic travel. The project involving 13 airlines at 37 airports saw a 52% penetration rate in September 2019, leading to higher rates of off-site check-in.

Such initiatives take a skilled workforce. IATA training centers in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei are essential to supporting the industry’s growth. There is also real opportunity in the region for training to be expanded, both numerically and technically. This is a young region demographically and a growing region for air travel. It means the industry needs to attract young talent and train them in ways they understand. For the younger generations, this involves online learning, virtual reality, and gamification.

Meeting these challenges head-on will help fulfil North Asia’s enormous potential. IATA’s 40 member airlines in the region are determined to make aviation the business of freedom.