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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Aviation Day: The Future of Flight

Science & Technology

Dr Deborah Swallow

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 13:24 GMT

Aviation Day, August 19th: a day which celebrates the development of aviation in its many forms. It falls on and commemorates the birthday of Orville Wright who, along with his elder brother, Wilbur Wright, were the inventors of the world's first successful aeroplane. The brothers successfully conducted the first free, controlled flight of a power-driven aeroplane on December 17th,1903.

As the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN specialised agency, explains, “in a little over a century, the aviation industry has gone from learning to fly, to learning to fly faster, learning to fly further, learning to fly heavier planes, and now to having 100,000 plus commercial flights occurring around the world each and every day, representing over 400 departures per hour!“

Aviation provides the only rapid worldwide transportation network, generating economic growth, creating jobs, and facilitating international trade and tourism. Aviation has become the enabler of global business

According to the ICAO, in 2017, airlines worldwide carried around 4.1 billion passengers. They transported 56 million tonnes of freight on 37 million commercial flights. Every day, airplanes transport over 10 million passengers and around US$18 billion worth of goods. By mid-2030s no fewer than 200,000 flights per day are expected to take off and land all over the world. This will generate $1.5 trillion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the world economy and with the impact of global tourism taken into account, this could mean 97.8 million jobs and $5.7 trillion in GDP.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) passenger numbers across the world are expected to double from their 2016 number by 2036. The two leading aircraft makers, Boeing and Airbus believe that this increase will come from emerging economies and their expansion of airport capacity, citing a direct link between air travel and economic prosperity. The inexorable rise to date has been largely attributed to Asia Pacific and Middle Eastern economic progress.

It is thought that the world will witness significant changes over the next 20 years, across these regions with respect to airport construction, design and route development. The world’s largest airport has just been completed in Istanbul and a construction surge continues in China. A proliferation of low-cost airlines is taking place across Asia and provoking unprecedented growth in the Far East.

“People want to fly. Demand for air travel over the next two decades is set to double. Enabling people and nations to trade, explore, and share the benefits of innovation and economic prosperity makes our world a better place,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Undoubtedly, aviation has truly been at the forefront of innovation. As the industry plans to support a near doubling of passenger and cargo numbers by 2036, what is certain is that innovations in technology and approaches will be needed to sustain this growth.

Most airports are already operating at high capacity. They have been built around population centres and are already constrained in their ability to expand; Heathrow’s controversial 3rd runway is a case in point. The reality is that to match the forecasted growth drastic improvements and efficiencies for airports and air traffic management will need to be found. Innovation will be the key.

Aviation is already known as a driving force of global technology development and innovations. But, what does the future of commercial flight look like and what are the innovations expected over the next 20 years? Space flight is excluded in the report.

Engines and aircraft are becoming lighter, quieter and more efficient. Emerging technologies are reshaping with robotics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, unmanned aircraft systems and the push for hybrid and electric airplanes, according to the ICAO.

Alternative fuels will change the current scenario of aviation significantly in support of environmental protection. Better weather predications will create better efficiencies for operating aircraft and managing. Airports. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data promise ways of increasing safety, efficiency and sustainability. These technologies can help improve aviation infrastructure and airspace utilisation. Additionally, we must not forget Elon Musk’s efforts to revolutionise transportation both on Earth and in space.

In the ‘International Airport Review’, published on, Dr Claudio Butticè has produced a well-researched and detailed guide to the 20 defining factors that will change airport and aviation over the next two decades. He includes the 20 innovations, challenges and general phenomena that will change the face of the industry and our (the customer) experience of it. A few of those ideas are set out below.

Airport Cities

There is an emergence and proliferation of the airport city model. In essence, a city will no longer be defined as a large settlement with an airport on its periphery but rather as an airport with a city built around it. Termed ‘Aerotropolis’, the airport city is a combination of large airport, planned city, cargo shipping facility and business and commercial hub.

Visible examples exist such as Amsterdam Zuidas, Las Colinas, Texas, and South Korea’s Songdo International Business District.

Zhengzhou is an east-central provincial capital barely known outside of China and is becoming a leading example of the concept of an airport city. By the year 2030, it will have an airport with two terminals and five runways able to handle 70 million passengers yearly. It will be surrounded by factories, research and development facilities, homes, exhibition spaces and much more. The city has plans to become an aerotropolis seven times the size of Manhattan but unlike JFK airport which lies over ten miles south east of Manhattan, Chinese planners aim for the city of Zhengzhou to be built around its airport.

John Kasarda envisages in his 2011 book, ‘Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next’ the future as defined by “the ubiquity of jet travel, round-the-clock workdays, overnight shipping, and global business networks has turned the pattern inside out. Soon the airport will be at the centre and the city will be built around it, the better to keep workers, suppliers, executives, and goods in touch with the global market.”

Big Data

Big Data will define the next few years of the airport and aviation industry and has been named as International Airport Review (IAA)’s number one revolutionary disrupter to the industry.

Basically, the parties that process passengers (airports and airlines predominantly) now have the capacity to collect passenger data en masse to the benefit of passenger and airport/airline alike.

Data collection, analytics and subsequent personalisation of experience is an example of the revolutionary potential data has for the airport and aviation industry. With passenger data, if analysed and implemented intelligently, the airport or airline can tailor experience according to the individual. Quite how is still a matter that is evolving and being explored.

However, it could lead to the introduction of airport Apps which introduce specific duty-free offers to a passenger. Equally, the airport would avoid sponsoring retail opportunities to business travellers who wish to get from A to B as rapidly as possible. The airport can find this out via data collection and analysis, ensuring that those that might wish to spend money know precisely where the offers are and avoids annoying those who are not going to spend.

Subsequently, the passenger has a more tailored, personalised experience and in some cases the airport and airline can maximise its revenue intake.

Queue analytics, specifying at what point of the day there needs to be more taxis present at a specific pick-up point can contribute to the improvement of operational efficiency and the elevation of passenger experience to a higher level.

Big data will bring about tremendous change for the industry, the likes of which we can only begin to imagine.

Artificial intelligence & Robotics

The airport and aviation industry is seeing AI and robotics bringing breakthroughs to airports. Some of the wide range of different robotic disrupters that can already be seen at some of the world’s largest airports. These include: Schiphol’s concierge robots that greet passengers with a fixed smile upon entry into the Dutch airport; technology company SITA has an innovative automatic check-in kiosk that senses which areas of the airport are busy before moving itself to these areas to alleviate check-in queues.

This trend will only continue to grow as the private sector continues to pour more capital into investment in automation and AI. As the IAA says, perhaps one day we might not even have to speak to a human when travelling by air.

Real-Time Updates

Technology will play an integral part in maximising airport efficiency. The processing, sharing and distributing of data, be it internally to staff within an airport or direct to consumers, providing real-time updates on the weather, delayed aircraft, any issues in general, will allow for better communication all round and more effective planning strategy moving forward.

Real-time updates, when integrated within an efficient management system, will enable reaction methods to real-time challenges to be drastically improved. This can bring genuine help to disabled or elderly passengers and those travelling with young children, ensuring they go to the correct departure station at the right time when changes have been made.

It is predicted that developments in real-time updates will arrive sooner rather than later and will aid significantly the overall experience of both passenger and staff by advances in communication methods, weather predictions and the overall systemic management of challenges that affect the day-to-day functioning of an airport.

Inflight Services

The airport and aviation industry are having to react to wider global technological trends with an ever-increasing focus on ensuring the passenger’s experience is as seamless and personalised as possible. In-flight services are predicted to offer Wi-Fi as standard, instantaneous access to limitless services and a wealth of choice for entertainment.

Royal Brunei Airlines is among a few airlines currently offering in-flight streaming of the latest TV and music options on mobile devices using cloud streaming technology on-board their Airbus A320.

Single Token Travel

Facial recognition technologies and biometrics will bring about ‘single token travel’ helping to provide seamless door-to-door travel. Airports, governments and airlines are increasingly looking to create synergy between the airport stakeholders responsible for passenger to provide a ‘seamless’ process.

Seamless travel is the absence of disruption, the noticeable facility of moving from A to B without issue. Seamless travel will ensure security checks are as quick and efficient as possible. A seamless traveller does not necessary need retail options, food and drink or help with security checks. Crucially however, they might desire these options. A seamless experience is therefore personal to each passenger.

With the doubling of passengers over the next 20 years, airports and airlines must prepare for this growth while attending to passengers with higher expectations and greater demands.

Apps & Beacons

An increasing number of airports and airlines are offering an app with real-time flight information, maps and useful information, even easier booking possibilities for parking or special assistance. London Heathrow offers a concierge app named Heathrow Airport Guide that offers consistent support to the passenger travelling through an airport.

Apps can offer a personal touch, increased efficiency and a technologically-current means of easily transmitting information, offering ‘seamless travel’ through the modern airport world.

Miami International Airport (MIA) is already demonstrating what’s possible with beacons, with its location-aware app. The airport has leveraged beacons across its entire campus to create a personalised experience more akin to a concierge service than a standard airport experience.

The app provides full coverage of the airport and as travellers make their way through it, the app provides information and support that is relevant to their individual journey, including updates on their gate, flight times and baggage collection, as well as nearby food and retail outlets, prioritising suggestions based on their current location. With ‘blue-dot’ functionality, map rotation, turn-by-turn directions, ‘walk times’ and a ‘near me’ feature, they allow passengers to quickly locate virtually anything inside the airport.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality has the ability to radically change passenger experience in an airport.

Hypothetically, an AR view gives passengers an enhanced view of their location with information (sensory input, static and dynamic information sources, location, object and context awareness) and functionalities. This means a passenger can see their way through the airport to their gate with arrows on the floor, where the door is for a toilet and many other examples.

Undoubtedly, AR will have a significant impact on airport and aviation both as a means of ensuring an even more personal and complete experience for the passenger as well as presenting a potential means for revenue generation for the airport itself.

Personalised offers might be made to passengers who have historically bought from a particular retailer in the past for example or perhaps AR could be integrated within an app and beacon solution to push offers to those who walk within a particular distance to a specific restaurant. The key aspect is that AR makes these offers visible and almost tangible. The possibilities are endless and constrained only by our imagination.


Modern and future passengers will expect to be treated as self-sufficient beings, with technological competence and information at their fingertips to make decisions for themselves. Efficient and timesaving, passengers will print their own tickets, baggage labels and sort out baggage drop without queueing and relying on a member of staff to complete the process to simply check themselves in. Self-service is already widespread and is only expected to become more and more entrenched.

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