A Boeing Co. 777X airplane sits on the assembly floor at the company's facility in Everett, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, March 6, 2020. The Boeing 777X airplane is scheduled to make its first flight on January 23. Picture: CHONA KASINGER / BLOOMBERG
A Boeing Co. 777X airplane sits on the assembly floor at the company's facility in Everett, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, March 6, 2020. The Boeing 777X airplane is scheduled to make its first flight on January 23. Picture: CHONA KASINGER / BLOOMBERG

Last year was a challenging one for the aviation industry. The Boeing Max grounding, the “flight shame” movement, airline bankruptcies and other events had a huge impact on annual results. However, positive news like the fact that 2019 was the safest in the last five years brightened the horizon.

Based on the outcome of last year, certain expectations have been set for 2020. They are served by a number of trends that are evident in this ever-changing, inherently demanding industry. The global trend towards customer experience is being reflected in a variety of industries, and aviation is no exception. It is extended across a number of fields, including researching, planning, airport experience and more.

Airports and airlines are now focusing on passenger-orientated rather than product-orientated decision-making processes. The adoption of the newest technologies is helping the companies meet customers’ demands and personalise their flying experience on board and at the airport.

These technologies are advanced enough to accelerate the transactional activities of the passenger, including check-in, baggage screening, security and customs, making them more efficient. 5G-network technologies have also been integrated to provide greater connectivity and customer choice.

The airports and airlines are taking the desires of the millennial and Generation Z audiences into account by offering “local” “instagrammable” meals. They have begun sourcing their products from smaller, nearby suppliers, which is is making their supply chain more complex but is catering better o the needs of their customers.

Sustainability has been at the forefront of all industries for some time now and it has proved to add value. Considering aviation’s total contribution to climate change, the biggest and most significant one comes from carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft. To reduce the carbon footprint when aircraft are taxiing, lighter airframe components and trials are taking place on the ground. Manufacturers are investing in methods to help reduce aircraft fuel consumption.

With an aim of introducing passengers to the reality of their carbon footprint and the improvements that are being made to reduce it, there will be monitors installed in the aircraft showing the amount of real-time carbon dioxide emissions.

New power and flight system integration is not possible with the current aircraft designs. A greener tomorrow requires reviewing absolutely all business processes, from rethinking aircraft design and airframes to their operation and in-flight services. The results of the tests will lead to further experiments, which also means heavy costs. Yet despite the possible negative influence on travelling costs, governments and the leaders in the aviation industry are ready to prioritise environmental impact and waste reduction.

To improve efficiencies and maintain high levels of security, artificial intelligence-based systems will be adopted by airlines. Virtual assistants and chatbots will take customer services and flight bookings to another level. Automated processes will decrease the need for human resources, and queuing times will be reduced by using facial recognition software. To improve the ride to the airport, robotic assistants will be there to help passengers.

Machine learning, data analytics and robotic technology will assist in analysing and predicting passenger behaviour and record it, which will determine whether airport design, customer experience and profitability can be improved. Elon Musk recently stated that Tesla cars will soon talk to people. The same is expected in the aviation industry — new-era aircraft will be able to talk to passengers about relevant matters.

Although the adoption of biometrics in the aviation industry is still at an early stage, the first step has already been made. Airlines and airports have started investing in facial recognition and fingerprint technology, carrying out several trial runs already. The areas where this technology has been tested include check-in, security, lounge access and boarding.

The main aim is to reduce security lines and speed up the passenger boarding process, reducing the need for staff. As facial, fingertip or even palm-vein recognition emerges, paper and mobile boarding passes will eventually become history. Incorporating this technology will be beneficial to all — passengers, airports and airlines.

Now that the airline industry and regulators have fully embraced blockchain technology, there are huge expectations for the improvement of safety and security operations. This technology allows companies to stop using paper for processing the information needed — recording and storing bookings, tracking the spares and aircraft parts, as well as conducting aircraft part  census.

Blockchain technology also has the potential to deal with increasing passenger flow by helping with passport and visa controls, which will eventually bring about the end of manual verification.

In conclusion, rising customer expectations, along with innovative technology implementation and other relevant solutions, set up 2020 to be a transformational year for the world of aviation. The sector is forecast to have net profit growth again this year, but for market players to achieve that and evolve it is essential that all are prepared to adapt to the predicted trends of 2020.

• Ziemelis chairs the board of Avia Solutions Group.