Skift recently held its second annual Aviation Forum online and Kambr Media was there to cover it. The content included deep-dive conversations into the business of aviation, including the industry’s top leaders from airlines, airports, tech providers and more.
The nature of the discussions was optimistic and future-facing, as aviation looks to re-emerge from the pandemic to brighter skies and open opportunities.
The topics included business and international travel, 2022 and beyond outlooks and predictions, sustainability, customer satisfaction and planning. Here are a few highlights from the event.
Aviation Remains Bullish on Business Travel
There’s been a lot written and discussed about the demise or at least permanent impact on business travel, but the industry remains confident in the segment and stressed its importance.
Straight from the event’s kickoff, Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali mentioned that domestic business travel was coming back faster than expected.
“I think we’re going to get to a point where business travel gets back to at least where it was in 2019. How soon? I’m not certain, but absolutely it’s going to return. It’s a requirement of business. Business is a social operation, and we all need to connect.”
During an interview, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker doubled down on business travel.
“I’m really bullish on what's going to happen with business travel over time and I’m not worried,” said Parker. We’re going to coexist with platforms [such as Zoom]. These platforms have a place and business travel will still be in place.”
Parker would later add, “I think we’re going to get to a point where business travel gets back to at least where it was in 2019. How soon? I’m not certain, but absolutely it’s going to return. It’s a requirement of business. Business is a social operation, and we all need to connect.”
The data appears to back up optimism. Data captured by TripActions and analyzed by Skift Research points to business travel recovery, with travel bookings increasing.
Sustainability Remains at the Forefront
One of the biggest challenges and topics in aviation today is sustainability, so of course it was at the forefront of discussions.
Sustainability is being felt in every area of aviation from route planning and commercial functions to operations and airports, aircraft development and fleet management.
Coming out of the pandemic, it’s only gaining more mindshare with more consumers and politicians showing interest and getting involved.
Skift’s Senior Research Analyst Wouter Geerts framed the problem well when he said, “There is this fundamental tension between the business models of travel and the volume of travel that we’re hoping to get back to post-pandemic and the emissions related to them.”
As for where aviation currently sits, aviation is becoming more efficient with Skift Research citing a 12% improvement in carbon efficiency. However, this is being offset by the volume of emissions with Skift Research citing a 55% increase in overall emissions.
“There is this fundamental tension between the business models of travel and the volume of travel that we’re hoping to get back to post-pandemic and the emissions related to them.”
As for what airlines can do right now to make a difference and meet emissions goals, there are three core areas to focus on.
“What’s inside scope today are fleet renewals, operational efficiencies and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF),” said Amelia DeLuca, Managing Director, Sustainability, Delta Air Lines.
(International Demand) Optimism
One of the most enduring qualities of the aviation industry is its sheer resolve and optimism, which has been felt through the course of the pandemic.
With clear recovery signals, that optimism, well not renewed because it never disappeared, is more apparent than ever. If one word had to summarize the tone of the event it would be optimistic.
And it’s not unfounded. The data backs up the claim that air travel is coming back. According to Skift Research, flight bookings and seat capacity are up, with some regions reaching levels near or above 2019 figures.
As for when and how much air travel will fully come back, that answer depends on who you ask. Parker has pinpointed the summer of 2022 as a prime date in the calendar. “In general, I think US demand for international travel in the summer of 2022 is going to be incredibly strong,” said Parker.
“I don’t think it’s remotely a stretch to believe that by this coming summer people are going to be traveling internationally at the same levels they did in 2019.”
While also optimistic, Swiss International Air Lines Chief Commercial Officer and Lufthansa Group Senior Vice President Channel Management Tamur Goudarzi Pour is a bit more reserved in his projections.
“We’re planning to grow into somewhere around 85% of the capacity we had in 2019,” said Goudarzi Pour. We’re planning at around 70% for the whole of 2022 with the summer reaching higher peaks somewhere around 80%.”
While the how's and when's are anything but certain, air travel is looking to break out in 2022 and the industry is eagerly waiting for it as optimistic as ever.
Although the last two years have been challenging, in the truest spirit of the industry, everyone has rallied together and found opportunity. As United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby put it, the pandemic accelerated progress leading to “a decade’s amount of work” being done in the short amount of time.