After a hiatus of more than two years, many of the regular industry events returned this year. Due to the critical situation in the beginning of the year, May and June were packed with shows, conferences and trade fairs. We attended a few of them, Airport Show Dubai, IATA Ground Handling Conference as well as the Passenger Terminal Expo. This article summarises the key takeaways from the last eight weeks.
Personal, face-to-face meetings are irreplaceable
Maybe one of the most important takeaways is that an exchange in person, standing opposite of eachother cannot be replaced by any video conference. This is also very good news for the aviation industry as it means that a lot of business travel has already, or will soon, return to the skies. Many of the people we spoke with were waiting for this moment for a long time and you were able to tell as all events, but especially the PTE, was buzzing like they haven’t in the years before COVID.
Traffic Recovery Predictions failed miserably
One thing that we at Assaia unfortunately predicted correctly in 2021 is that traffic will not only recover much quicker than many of the industry analysts predicted; there is also no need for a 100% recovery of flights before the weakened airport/airline eco-system collapses. The number one topic at every show has been the very strong recovery and how this unexpected situation caught almost every stakeholder off-guard. Lack of staff, lack of equipment, lack of information, all of this is happening at the same time in a climate where people want to get back into the air to visit friends, family, customers or simply go on vacation. Some players even consider radical solutions by asking governments to relax immigration regulations to support employing staff from foreign countries.
Unfortunately, like so often before, the aviation industry has not learnt from previous crises and is now back in what everyone in our industry is best at: Firefighting. Instead of making bold and precautionary investments to counteract the loss of resources and knowledge, cost-saving and short-term thinking were prevalent again. We heard from so many in the operational management level that they would have wished for budgets in order to mitigate the current crisis early on. But no one was listening.
There is no future without Technology
One thing that became apparent over the past eight weeks has been a change in the mindset of many with whom we spoke. Innovation and a drive to invest into technology already existed before COVID, but it was still nestled into the industry’s safety-driven and conservative mindset. Now that everyone realises that the lack of qualified staff and costly resources is not just a temporary problem, the urge for digitization and technology-driven growth is mindblowing. Literally everyone we spoke to agreed that there is no more room to wiggle about the question of how quickly airports and airlines must heavily invest in technology to safeguard their future existence. The answer is: Immediately and with full force. And we also already see it in the sheer amount of enquiries that come our way since January 2022. There is no more time to be lost and for most IT vendors projects are done on a first-come-first-serve basis.
It’s a people's business
Last but not least we like to quote the CEO of a major ground handler that said during a panel discussion that aviation is a people’s business. And although we believe that this is only partially true, in the end every business, every human interaction is a “people’s business”. Therefore flying will never become irrelevant and as long as there is no new and more dangerous COVID variant coming our way this autumn, it seems that the aviation industry is back on track when it comes to traffic and passenger numbers. Unfortunately, this very strong recovery of demand hits an industry that is very close to a cardiac arrest. From our engagements over the past eight weeks it seems, however, as if the aviation industry finally realises that only by investing in technology in a way never considered possible before, will it be able to cope with future growth. Maybe in the future, when we look back in ten years, we realise that COVID had something good after all - it changed the aviation industry for the better.