2022 was not an easy year for commercial aviation. Despite the wider relaxation of Covid measures around the world, traveling by air was not devoid of challenges coming from different fronts. Several airports and airlines were affected by a shortage of staff after thousands of employees were laid off during the pandemic. The challenges were amplified by the surge in the number of travelers. Many airlines were forced to reduce their number of flights. Commercial aviation has experienced a global reduction in capacity of 4% or 14.3 million seats due to cancellations, an analysis by travel consultancy firm ForwardKeys revealed. How does 2023 look to the industry in terms of challenges and opportunities?
1. Full recovery not before 2025
According to Airports Council International Europe (ACI EUROPE), a full recovery is now expected in 2025 rather than in 2024, as it was previously forecast in May 2022. “Passenger traffic has made a strong comeback since last spring and has so far been very resilient in the face of increasing geopolitical and economic headwinds,” Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE. Continued geopolitical tensions and the war in Ukraine will keep impacting several national markets, and dominate downside risks.
According to the @ACI_EUROPE revised passenger traffic forecast for the European airport network, passenger volumes in 2023 are set to fall -9% below pre-pandemic levels and full recovery has now been pushed back to 2025.— ACI EUROPE (@ACI_EUROPE) December 20, 2022
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ACI EUROPE expects the impact of these negative determinants on passenger traffic to be partially compensated by a degree of resilience in leisure demand and the continued expansion of Ultra-Low Cost Carriers. The end of the airport slots waiver granted to airlines as of next Summer should also ease supply pressures.
All these factors will impact airports differently depending on their location, size, market position and business model. This means the increasing gaps in traffic performance which we already see across our footprint are here to stay, at least as we move through the year to come.
“On the longer horizon, once the last impacts Covid-19 have finally departed, European airports will face higher levels of risk than in the past,” said Jankovec. “Our regulators must reflect and fully account for this.”
2. New technology
Technology developments could enhance the travel experience for many when going through the security check. Airports have been testing new scanners that could soon allow travelers to leave their laptops and liquids, even without a volume restriction, inside their bags during screening. The equipment uses Computer Tomography (CT) technology, allowing for a more accurate detection of dangerous items, like weapons and explosives. Called ConneCT, the scanner was created by Analogic, a company specializing in imaging technology for medical, as well as security purposes.
The CT technology allows the new scanners to create very detailed 3D scans of a bag’s contents and officers can then view and rotate the image to be able to analyze the contents very carefully. Furthermore, the machines also use complex algorithms to detect weapons, explosives and other prohibited items. Due to the high accuracy of the apparatus, they can even detect explosives in liquids, which is why travelers could soon be allowed to leave them in their bags when going through security. The UK government plans to introduce hi-tech scanners to airports by 2024.
In terms of sustainability, more and more airlines are betting on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to make aviation greener. Despite the slow uptake due to its cost, some technologies are already in place to produce greener fuels for aviation. One or multiple sources can compose the feedstock that produces SAF — waste products, such as vegetable oils or household waste, or specifically grown plant material.
Biomass and municipal solid waste are expanding in use as sources. These have the potential to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions even further over their life-cycle, from 85% to 95%, compared to traditional fossil-based jet fuel. The lower-point is that these sources have a lower energy density and require larger volumes of feed stock. Overall, SAF cost is a major factor preventing the full uptake of this type of fuel.
4. New aircraft
Regarding new aircraft, Boeing has two variants of its 737 MAX airplane undergoing a longer than usual certification process. According to CNN, US regulators want the manufactures to install additional safety systems, which will be more expensive for Boeing. Some airlines were banking on the fact that they wouldn’t have to spend time and money training pilots on the new safety systems.
On Friday December 9th, the world’s first COMAC C919, a Chinese-made narrow-body jet, was delivered to customer China Eastern Airlines in Shanghai. The plane made a 15-minute flight by three senior CEA pilots from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to the Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. The short flight was meant to celebrate the historic moment.
The aircraft, a rival to the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX, is expected to make its first commercial flight next spring, China‘s news agency Xinhua reported. The COMAC’s first inaugural route will be between Shanghai and the capital Beijing.
Commercial Aviation Corp of China (COMAC) is expected to produce about 25 C919 aircraft per year by 2030, well below current monthly production rates of narrow-body aircraft from rivals, according to analysts at Jefferies.
The C919 relies heavily on Western components, including engines and flight control systems, from companies such as GE, Safran and Honeywell International. China is seeking to increase the proportion of domestic parts on the C919 and an alternative engine called the CJ-1000A is being developed.
On 15 June 2022, the first Airbus A321XLR successfully accomplished its very first flight. The aircraft is now ready to undergo the flight test program and will be flying hundreds of flight test hours in the coming weeks to progress all testing and documentation to secure the Type Certification in 2023. Entry into Service is planned for 2024.
The A321XLR is the next step in the evolution of A320neo single-aisle Family meeting the market demand for increased range and payload, creating more value for airlines by enabling economically viable services on longer routes than any comparable aircraft model.
The A321XLR will deliver an unprecedented single-aisle aircraft range of up to 4,700nm (8700 km), with 30% lower fuel consumption per seat compared to previous-generation aircraft, as well as reduced NOx emissions and noise. By the end of June 2022, the A320neo Family accumulated over 8,000 orders from over 130 customers worldwide. A321XLR orders stood at more than 500 from over 20 customers. Airbus’ spacious Airspace cabin has larger bins and a very stylized design.
“The rising number of Airspace cabin equipped aircraft entering the market means more and more passengers will benefit from comfort features as well as connectivity,” Airbus’ vice president of cabin marketing, Ingo Wuggetzer, told CNN. “This is key for me in 2023 — it is about bringing these innovations to a growing number of passengers worldwide.” According to news outlet, the Airbus A380 super jumbo is expected to gain popularity again. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad is the latest airline to bring its A380s back.