Wider economic challenges include inflation, the US dollar appreciation, labor shortages, and geopolitical turmoil. But these are understood, and air transport is once again showing its resilience. There is industry confidence in its future.
“The glass is half full,” said Captain Waleed Abdulhameed Al Alawi, CEO, Gulf Air. “I see good growth toward a full recovery.”
Nevertheless, there are some difficulties to overcome. Labor shortages were highlighted, especially in Europe. These are having an impact on the customer experience as airport processes are taking longer than necessary. Gulf Air’s on-time performance has been affected.
Passengers are also suffering from a lack of harmonization in key areas. Contactless travel is well established, for example, but regulation is a step behind and often still requires paperwork to be presented. Similarly, the technology has long existed for comprehensive security screening without the need to divest devices or clothing.
“I am optimistic that we will learn these lessons,” said Willie Walsh. “But we do need to do things in a different way.”
Technology must ensure that travel is seamless. It is also a differentiator and can provide a quality customer experience. Mohamed Yousif Al Binfaleh, CEO, Bahrain Airport Company related how the new terminal at Bahrain utilizes the latest innovations following intensive collaboration with its partners. Having implemented the latest security tools, it is now trialling a biometric solution that will take passengers from off-airport check-in to boarding, putting every individual in full control of their journey.
A robust financial performance is the platform for all these advances. Airlines need to have the money to not only withstand future shocks to the industry—that will doubtless happen—but also to invest in technologies and processes that continue to improve the passenger experience and cut airline costs.
Flexibility is equally intrinsic to resilience and future prospects. Gulf Air introduced a charter service that has grown significantly in the past 18 months. Bahrain Airport Company invested heavily in training and business continuity.
“Speed of response is absolutely critical,” agreed Walsh. “Resilience going forward requires everybody working together and learning lessons so that we don’t repeat past mistakes.” The industry cannot afford to think in terms of cycles and riding out storms, he added.
The panel also tackled arguably the greatest challenge facing the industry; sustainability.
But sustainability is not just an aviation issue, and it was stressed that the search for new energy sources is a global one involving all industries. Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) are a way forward, but it was noted that SAF are not readily available in many locations and the transportation of the fuel could negate any benefits. And that is assuming that there is SAF available to purchase. Production capacity is still low.
Additionally, there are still big savings in airspace design, which could immediately cut carbon emissions up to 20% if implemented. Walsh called for the political will to overcome structural inefficiency. He noted, too, that promoting other transportation would have a limited impact. Transferring European flights of under 500km to rail would eliminate 24% of flights but just 3.8% of emissions. The majority of aviation’s emissions is produced by long-haul travel.
Airports can play their part. Scope 3 emissions—emissions produced by third parties outside of the airport’s control—are the most difficult to address but again collaboration is the key.
“There is a credible pathway to Fly Net Zero by 2050, but it will take a lot of work and a lot of working together,” concluded Walsh.
Captain Waleed Abdulhameed Al Alawi, CEO, Gulf Air
Mohamed Yousif Al Binfaleh, CEO, Bahrain Airport Company
Willie Walsh, Director General, IATA
Nina Wittkamp, Partner, McKinsey (Moderator)