The global commercial aviation fleet is expected to expand by 33 percent, to more than 36,000 aircraft by 2033, so says an Oliver Wyman analysis. Similarly the Airports Council International, which is the voice of the world’s airports, predicts an annual growth of 5.8 percent in passenger traffic between 2022 and 2040. By 2040, more than 19 billion passengers will pass through world airports each year. These are some of the insights from a report created by Oliver Wyman, Airports Council International (ACI) World, and the Sustainable Tourism Global Centre (STGC), incubated by the Ministry of Tourism of Saudi Arabia, to assist ecosystem players on their journey to 2050.
The recently released report specifies challenges and opportunities across five identified megatrends and also points out what airport leaders, regulators and other decision-makers should prioritise to allow for sustainable industry growth from decade to decade.
Achieving net zero is considered a key factor affecting the evolution of airports. As far as 2008, aviation became the first industry to adopt a global, sector-wide climate action goal. This was followed in 2021 by a declaration by the global aviation industry to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is happening though the airport sector contributes a relatively low share of global emissions. The airport sector specifically accounts for just 2% to 5% of total aviation emissions. The report advises airports to take concerted measures to reduce energy consumption across their ecosystem and utilise negative emissions technologies by either relying on natural processes or employing dedicated technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Technological innovation will allow the deployment of technology which will open the doors to rethink the internal design and layout of airports, since they will have to have in focus “On-the-move” passenger processing, with little or no stopping points. The report counsels that maximising the value of new technology will require collaboration and alignment between regulators and the industry on data sharing.
Further, there is the expectation that intermodal connectivity at both city and regional levels will be key to facilitating the movement of people and goods. This also includes looking at wider social mobility trends like electrification and automation of vehicles that will impact airports and demand collaboration with public transit agencies to develop integrated, green – transit strategies. The report expects that in the future, passengers could for instance travel through a fully seamless transportation system providing dedicated access to airports from city centres.
As airports approach the future, AI and other technologies are expected to transform airport operations. The result, says the report, is that the role of the workforce will bifurcate, and required skills will be more specialised. The effect will be that passenger-facing workers will have to upgrade their customer service skills, and airport operations staff will need new engineering, digital, cybersecurity and IT skills. Incentivising and attracting the Gen Z will also need to be a priority.
The future of the passenger experience points to that which will be customised, on-demand, contactless, and efficient. This is because the digitization of airports will enable a tailored end-to-end journey through the airport and will create new retail and commercial revenue opportunities. As airports expand into airport cities (aerotropolis), customers will find a host of interrelated activities on the airport site or nearby.
The effect of transforming passenger processing is that there will be a significant change in the internal layout of airport terminals. In that case, the future line of demarcation between airside and landside is expected to be very different from today. As such having reduced check-in counters and security screening queues will provide new opportunities for commercial retail and relaxation spaces in terminals.