BY EKELEM AIRHIHEN
The context in which aviation has found itself today is challenging. From the pandemic and its variants that have resulted in lockdowns and losses by all players in the industry value chain, to the fall outs of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, uncertainty is everywhere.
Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “Passenger service became consistently profitable for airlines for the first time in 1935…” This was in the midst of the competition that ensued between Boeing, their 247 model, then regarded as the first ‘modern’ airliner; and DC series model of their competitor, Douglas Aircraft Company. Hear Willie Walsh, the director general of IATA in the IATA Annual Review 2021: “Two decades ago, we faced a crisis that crippled and changed the world. The greatest tribute that we have paid to those who suffered losses on 9-11 was our determination to ensure the freedom to travel safely and surely. We did that. By 2019, the global number of travellers nearly tripled the levels of 2000 reaching over 4.5 billion. That’s an inspiration.” So we can advance the frontiers of possibilities for safe, secure and profitable air transport in Nigeria by taking ownership of the aviation industry and opening our eyes and minds to the global environment.
Terrorism and geopolitical switch in Africa, while a challenge, especially as we are feeling the shock waves from the Sahel Belt of Terror as it is called, has opportunities for Nigerian air transport. Going today to Mali or Burkina Faso by road has become very dangerous. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement and the Single African Air Transport Market are initiatives from the African Union that provide opportunities for increased connectivity across Africa. So, rather than dangerous journeys across the Sahel and Sahara deserts, we can leapfrog aviation to achieve the goals of SATM before 2063.
One of the fallouts of the pandemic has been the availability of leases for aircraft such that airlines can get newer model planes. In the face of rising fuel costs due to the crisis in Ukraine, low fuel consumption planes come as a relief. These airlines must take advantage of this.
Airports will have to start thinking of themselves beyond passenger facilitation as integrated logistics centres. They can become enablers of e-commerce as they become go-to centres for collection and delivery of shipments, as well as Arrival and Departure duty free shopping.
Airport operators should begin to think of passenger aggregation for airlines leveraging on technology such that delays and cancellations of flights are reduced substantially. Airlines can, on a real time basis, see passengers who have entered the terminal building and their destinations. They can then take turns to service which route has the number of passengers that is most profitable to them. So, I can book airline A to Jos from Abuja and end up flying on time via airline B to my destination – a service enabled by the airport.
Imagine aeroplanes being referred to as bouncing castles rather than flying coffins. Innovations in aircraft technology can become such that planes no longer crash land but are made of materials that bounce like balloons on touching the ground. Those who feared to fly would join the flying public. Airports and concessionaires will now be contending with new personas for travel and retail. Continuous monitoring of changing air travel personas and designing service to meet their desired customer experience will be needed to advance the frontiers of possibilities of customer experience for safe, secure and profitable air transport.
Recently, Nigeria put to the bid two slots for 100MHZ of the 3.5GHZ spectrum of the fifth generation (5G) network. Also, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has confirmed the licensing of Elon Musk’s Starlink. Every year, the editorial team of Future Travel Experience offers predictions on trends and technology that will shape the air travel industry. For 2022, they predict ten trends they believe will ensure airports and airlines can improve and simplify passenger experience, enhance business performance as well as support recovery, post Covid-19.
The metaverse, an immersive virtual reality experience; retail trend in the use of virtual reality and augmented reality to help customers digitally; vertiport, a type of airport for aircrafts that land and take off vertically is reportedly going to be in France in a bid to launch commercial Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) services in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics; new aircraft technologies in the use of hydrogen and electric, including improvements in operational efficiency and infrastructure and emerging bio-based Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF); deployment of biometrics and digital identity technology with the capacity to create a more safe, seamless and contactless passenger experience; contactless technology, which enables airlines update their inflight entertainment encouraging a model of BYOD (bring your own device). Airport retail and its future will also be affected by this technology as well as virtual queuing.
Air transport stakeholders must communicate and collaborate with one another so that collectively they leapfrog with technology. Also, continuous training, strategic thinking and design thinking will enable advancing the frontiers of air transport leveraging on technology.
Regulation has received knocks globally. Various aviation interest groups have canvassed their own interests in the spirit of capitalism. Advancing the frontiers of air transport may require a tilt towards self regulation by stakeholders. They will then have a dispute settlement mechanism based on principles as they compete.
“Success will require the entire value chain to commit and deliver. Aircraft and engine manufacturers, fuel producing companies, airports and ANSPs must address the environmental impact of their policies, products and services,” says Willie Walsh.
So we can leapfrog as we advance the frontiers of possibilities in air transport. Operation Solomon where Israel transported 14,325 Ethiopian Jews in 36 hours proves this can be done.
Ekelem Airhihen, a chartered accountant, is an airport customer experience specialist. He can be reached on email@example.com and +2348023125396 (WhatsApp only)
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