Almost a week into the new year, this is a great time to reflect on 2021 and take a look at the next 12 months and some of the things to expect from the aviation industry as it continues to progress, whilst navigating the ongoing pandemic.
Whilst recent years have seen their share of airlines and aviation institutions filing for bankruptcy and closing their doors, the contrary has also been seen, with several startup and budget airlines taking off and offering flights at competitive rates. This includes players such as Saudi Arabia’s Flyadeal, and Vietnam’s Bamboo Airways, both of which began operations in 2017, both dedicated to strengthening their countries’ tourism sectors.
At the same time many new airlines were established in 2021; Wizz Air Abu Dhabi for instance, was established by the Hungarian flyer to increase its outreach to Asia and the Middle East. Also in Vietnam, Vietravel Airlines launched operations in January 2021, whilst only providing domestic flights for the moment, the airline is set for expansions in the near future.
In Africa several startups appeared over the past year including the Algerian WestAf, which as the country’s first private airline is offering flights to Barcelona, Alicante, Toulouse and Montpellier using Bombardier Q400 turboprops. The Republic of Congo has also received a new domestic flyer - Africa Airlines that, to date, has begun operations between the two main cities of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire with a single Boeing 737-300. Also worth noting is the return of South African Airways, whilst not necessarily a new airline, the airline has effectively closed and reopened witnessing several changes to its route plans and administration
Such examples demonstrate that amidst the losses endured by the COVID-19 pandemic, on the contrary there are many new players to the scene that will be offering diverse travel choices to passengers in 2022 and the years that follow.
2021 has not been the most fruitful year for Boeing (or all of the aviation industry) due to problems concerning the 787 program along with several setbacks of the 777X project. Furthermore whilst the company witnessed a revival of the 737 in some regions, overall it fell behind its largest competitor, Airbus.
With all that behind the aircraft manufacturer, 2022 comes with a promising start. With the end of the 747 program, the firm will have room to focus on its newer projects such as the 777X, or perhaps even go back to the drawing board on its highly anticipated clean sheet design.
2021 was a year filled with a pool of achievements on the environmental front; from TotalEnergies continued advancements in procuring sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), along with the record breaking Spirit of Innovation electric airplane from Rolls Royce and the ever increasing rise of eVTOLs in various applications.
This year is set to continue the trend with the aviation industry heavily committed to lowering its carbon footprint by bringing SAF to the mainstream however, this comes with its own set of challenges. As it stands, SAF is four times more expensive than traditional jet fuel meaning that when integrated, the increased cost for airlines will fall on the consumers pocket. As a result this could mean that global growth rates of the aviation sector could be significantly slower, for an industry facing a long road to recovery. As past trends have shown, during times of heightened oil prices, it is usually the strongest airlines that have endured and remained profitable. This would mean that budget flyers, who with their global appeal will be vital to aviation recovery, may suffer at the expense of SAF. On the other hand, the growing trend of premium economy could be the key to keep low-cost airlines in the sky.
Since the onset of the pandemic, cargo aviation saw a surge in demand and activity that has steadily increased over the past two years. The silver lining for a hard hit aviation sector was sparked by skyrocketing pressures from the e-commerce sector along with the urgent need to transport medical supplies. This is currently being witnessed with the surge of cases due to the Omicron variant across Europe.
Furthermore freighter operations also saw significant increase during the pandemic. As the pandemic is yet to come to a complete end, the pattern is continuing into next year and 2022 is expected to contain continued growth in the cargo aviation operations.
Speaking in a virtual news conference, Adrian Loretz, COO of Teleport - the cargo and logistics division of Air Asia Group Bhd, reported that there has been a 500% increase in air freight rates between Asia, US and Europe since the onset of the pandemic. He went on to add that “We are in the middle of the peak. I don’t think airfreight rates will rise further, but they will remain elevated through 2022. Consequently, I expect yields to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels for a while because the recovery [of the air travel industry] is not going to be that fast and there is still rising demand for e-commerce across the regions.”
Meanwhile Ibrahim Mohamed Salleh, CEO of MASkargo, the cargo unit of Malaysia Aviation Group Bhd (MAG), expressed his optimism that cargo transport remains the hope for airlines amidst restrictions. This is supported by IATA’s predictions that cargo demand in 2022 will overtake 2019 levels by 13% whilst cargo revenues are expected to rise to US$169 billion.
Albeit steadily increasing vaccination rates and some loosening of travel restrictions, the pandemic is far from finished and will continue to burden the global aviation industry into 2022. This is particularly due to the rise of new, more contagious variants; whereas 2021 endured the Delta surge, 2022 is being welcomed by Omicron.
Having learned from experience, governments were swift to re-impose travel restrictions upon the discovery of the new variant which was a severe hit to the aviation industry that had been gradually improving in the final quarters of 2021. That said, it is highly unlikely that the industry will once again experience the global halt and reductions witnessed in 2020, when air travel rate was 70% lower than pre-pandemic levels.
With hospitalisations significantly reduced due to steadily increasing vaccination, health care systems are less likely to be overwhelmed. In addition, as some health-authorities have hinted that Omicron may be milder than previous variants, with the correct sanitary precautions, total lockdowns and travel bans are unnecessary, great news for aviation.
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