2020 is Over (At Last!) But What Can Aviation Expect in 2021?

Aircraft and Innovation
Nick Cummins
min read
December 30, 2020

With the world of aviation changed forever from the events in 2020, what can we expect going forward into the next twelve months? What do airlines need to know for the future, and how can they be best prepared?

Eways Aviation has put together a brief list of the top new trends developing in the next year and some general advice on how aviation can respond to take advantage of these trends.

Cargo is Now Vital

If we have learned anything from the previous year, it is how cargo has risen from a secondary enterprise to the main player. Not only have cargo airlines been in such critical demand that profits have dramatically risen, but that passenger airlines have started to remove seats from their own aircraft to get in on the action.

Emirates SkyCargo has set up the world’s largest airside hub dedicated to distributing COVID-19 vaccines

For the next year, airlines will need to understand that cargo is now a top priority for their business. Carriers will need to factor in cargo flight opportunities by acquiring cargo aircraft or converting existing planes to ensure that the decline in passengers doesn't heavily impact their bottom line.

“Cargo revenues are therefore replacing the higher yield business passengers that are absent at the moment,” commentated Brian Pearce, Chief economist at IATA.

“But in the bigger picture, cargo is by no means sufficient to offset what has been a catastrophic collapse in passenger revenues. We need those to recover for the industry as a whole to be healthier and re-establish connectivity,”

Besides, there is a new cargo opportunity on the line that may prove an even bigger breadwinner for 2021. The new vaccines from China, England, the USA (and others), will need to be transported from their point of manufacture to international locations and also to destinations within each country's borders. Airlines and aircrews on all levels will benefit from a product distribution as we have never seen before, with health offices relying on local experts to convey the delicate cargo. Emerging countries that don't have ground base alternatives are set to reap the biggest reward, as private enterprises in these regions will (in some cases) be the only option to get the vaccine where it needs to be.

"Emirates SkyCargo has set up the world’s largest airside hub dedicated to distributing COVID-19 vaccines, and we stand ready to support not just Dubai, but countries around the world, including markets with limited cool chain infrastructure with our advanced capabilities. By transporting COVID-19 vaccines across our extensive network, we look forward to helping people around the world get back on their feet after the devastating impact of the pandemic,” said Nabil Sultan, Emirates Divisional Senior Vice President, Cargo, in a press release.

Retiring Giants

Aviation market conditions favor twin-engined aircraft, speeding up the retirement of larger planes like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747. While this is a shame for aviation enthusiasts and those who enjoy a shower onboard, it will mean that air travel will be more efficient than ever before. Carriers will examine their fleet for any airframes that are less than ideal for a future fleet makeup and release the unwanted aircraft onto the market.

This also means that many smaller carriers that only operate twin-jets are better positioned as they don't need to shoulder the loss of such large line items. And if these airlines want to expand their fleet, it's also a buyers market for those who want to purchase new airframes, some of which are quite new and built in the last ten years.


Health Security

If there is one thing that passengers will expect going forward, it is that not only that you get them to where it says on the ticket, but you do so with their health in mind. Passengers more than ever before are looking for airlines that make their health the number one priority. This will be known as the new bare minimum, and carriers will need to ensure that all crew members are equipped with the right PPE (you can read all about what you need here), that the aircraft are spotlessly cleaned, and that this is all reflected in the marketing material.

We will also see the same reflected in airports, which will be using new tools such as robotic UV cleaners to ensure that 24/7 these facilities are spotless.

In December, LAX established a coronavirus testing facility to test outgoing passengers heading to localities such as Hawaii. To ensure that they are safe, the airport has passengers book a testing time via an app and then has results two hours later before they depart. Keeping passengers safe and giving them the confidence to fly.

"We all realize that we have to invest in solutions to bring passengers back and get them to travel,"

said Justin Erbacci, chief executive of Los Angeles International Airport.

At San Antonio International Airport, they decided to approach the winter holiday with priorities On safety: "Safety remains our number one priority. Passengers can rest assured that top sanitation standards and technologies are implemented multiple times a day throughout the airport, from the no touch parking entrances to hundreds of hand sanitizing stations, social distancing dots, seat covers, and transparent shields at counters and customer service areas. Forgot your mask or sanitizer? Free face masks and small bottles of hand sanitizers are available at the Ambassador Stations" says the press release.

We may even see a radical change in policy with airlines insisting that passengers be vaccinated before they fly. So far, Qantas has doubled down on this assessment and actually seems to be winning public approval.

“Our position on this is clear. We have a duty of care to our people and our passengers. Once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services."

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said to the press.

Whether or not this will go ahead when the aviation industry restarts remain to be seen; many airlines are watching with bated breath to see what happens to the Australian flag carrier.

Embracing Mobile Phone Technology

Another trend that airlines will need to embrace in 2020 is the rise of personal phone technology. With many passengers using smartphones (the smartphone has one of the highest market penetrations in 2020), they will expect connectivity to airlines in new ways, such as buying tickets, interacting with cabin crew, and keeping up to date with flight information. Airlines that have not yet embraced smartphone technology stand to lose market share in the next few years as more technologically savvy travelers take to the skies.

ZIPAIR, the new low-cost subsidiary of JAL in Japan, has taken this technology a step further and now allows passengers to order beverages throughout the flight via their phones. ZIPAIR President Shingo Nishida commented on the technology, saying,

“ZIPAIR’s priority and vision are to enhance the inflight experience and empower passengers with on-demand services. ZIPAIR believes that the introduction of this system will provide passengers with a peace of mind to fly, and enhance the confidence and comfort of passengers by minimizing physical contact and touchpoints in the cabin.”

This also means the extinction of one of the seatback entertainment screens. While long-haul aircraft will likely keep it, short-haul planes will seek to remove as many common touchpoints as possible. Passengers will be expected to bring their own devices and install airline apps - streaming entertainment, flight information, and more to their device. While this may be seen as a sad departure from the way we fly, the possibilities that smartphones present opens up so many new opportunities for the future (such as internet connectivity, augmented reality, and much more).

A return to business

The last prediction for 2021 will be that aviation will return to a somewhat new normal. After spending the good part of a year with uncertainty, many people are ready to have an international holiday and see the world, which airlines need to be ready for. While airlines will need to be cautious, the opening of several travel bubbles could see several new point-to-point routes be established, and new markets open up.

A fantastic example is the proposed Fiji travel bubble, allowing New Zealanders and Australians to travel to the south Pacific - and isolate for two weeks at a beachside resort!

"This Bula Bubble will allow Aussies and Kiwis to enjoy the best of Fiji once again while remaining separate from any other travelers and the general public"

said Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

Other travel bubbles include Singapore, which has made strides to include many 'safe' countries in its lists, such as Taiwan and New Zealand.

Nick Cummins
Copywriter - Aviation Journalist
Journalist - Working in news media for over a decade with outlets including 9News and the Discovery Channel, Nick is an airline marketing specialist with a Masters level education. Working closely with AirAsia, Virgin Australia, Turkish Airlines and others, Nick provides unique insight and analysis on a variety of aviation topics. Based in Sydney, Australia.

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