9 in 10 From Industry Say Aviation Wasn’t Prepared For COVID

The results of a key aviation survey have been revealed in full today. A study of more than 500 professionals in the industry was conducted as part of FlightPlan: Charting a Course into the Future, an online broadcast by Inmarsat and the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) between April and June. It has provided some valuable insight into the expected impact of COVID on the world of aviation.

FlightPlan Inmarsat APEX
FlightPlan from Inmarsat and APEX brought the industry together in a one-day remote event. Photo: Inmarsat

In line with other industry predictions, over half the respondents (60%) believed recovery of the industry would take from 18 months to three years. Alongside this, only 13% thought that the industry was well prepared for this crisis.

Dominic Walters, Vice President of Inmarsat Aviation, said of the survey:

“The FlightPlan survey is a first in terms of scale and breadth to shine a light on opinions about the COVID-19 recovery phase and includes the views from more than 500 professionals across the aviation industry.  

“Even in a period of unrivalled uncertainty and volatility, there is a true sense of optimism about the shape of the industry in this new world. The results show a strong desire to accelerate recovery, an optimistic outlook for investment in passenger experience and sustainability initiatives, and a commitment to rebuild an industry fit for the future.”

Dominic Walters at FlightPlan. Photo: Inmarsat

Other parts of the survey offered additional insight into the passenger journeys of the future, what the shape of the recovery would look like and whether COVID will have affected aviation’s sustainability goals.

How will a recovery look?

Many airline executives have indicated in recent weeks that domestic travel is likely to rebound faster than international. The uncertainty around border restrictions, quarantines and second outbreaks around the world are likely to keep demand for international travel low for some time. FlightPlan’s survey agreed with this, with 85% of respondents affirming this notion.

In his most recent results call, Wizz Air’s CEO Jozsef Varadi noted his confidence in the airline’s point to point model, and said this would set them ahead of the game in the recovery stakes. The survey results agreed with this, with 70% expecting point to point to recover faster than hub and spoke, with low-cost carriers getting a sliver of a lead over full-service airlines.

FlightPlan’s respondents believed business travel would recover faster than leisure. With almost 70% of the vote, this was surprising as many airline executives, including the CCO of Virgin Atlantic, have indicated that they believe business travel will take the longest to recover.

Virgin atlantic livery
Virgin’s CCO said he expected business travel to recover slowly. Photo: Getty Images

IATA has previously raised concerns about airline bailouts; not that they haven’t been freely given – by the end of May, airlines had been awarded $123 bn of aid, and such bailouts are ongoing. The concerns are that most of these are debt burdens to airlines and will take many years to repay. The FlightPlan poll agreed, with just 7% believing governments had done enough to support the industry.

What about the passenger journey?

The COVID crisis has forced airlines to rethink their operations, as deeper cleaning, decontamination and restoring passenger confidence have changed their priorities. 88% of respondents expect these measures to continue, leading to longer turnaround times and a potential impact on flight schedules.

Despite many airlines already unblocking the middle seat, 44% of respondents said the empty middle seat would likely be a common feature on flights, at least in the short term. IATA previously said the middle seat block was ineffective and has been advocating for mandatory mask-wearing instead.

United Airlines Mask
IATA advocates for mask-wearing over social distancing. Photo: United Airlines

In good news, however, half of the respondents believed that the reduction in capital expenditure and investment in PaxEx would be a temporary measure. One in three even thought COVID would stimulate additional investment, as airlines looked to technology such as biometrics and artificial intelligence to influence future growth.

What do you think about these survey results? Let us know in the comments.