Looking back at aviation in 2023, the industry can take pride in nearly fully restoring pre-pandemic service levels. The Airports Council International (ACI) projected global passenger volume for 2023 at approximately 8.6 billion passengers, which is 94.2% of 2019 figures. Moreover, the industry achieved significant milestones in meeting sustainability goals and enhancing the passenger experience. A new framework for decarbonizing global air travel, the broader adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), and leveraging technologies to enhance the passenger experience were key agenda items.
Aviation in 2023 – How Far Have We Come?
The second half of 2023 witnessed a strong resurgence in air cargo. Particularly, Latin America experienced annual growth in cargo tonne kilometers (CTKs), with Africa and North America surpassing their pre-Covid levels. However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggests overall industry CTKs remained below 2022 levels in 2023.
Three years after a historic loss of almost $140 billion, total airline revenues were projected to reach 107% of 2019 earnings, with operating profits estimated at $41 billion. This serves as proof of the industry’s resilience and capacity to adapt to new circumstances.
Willingness to Travel
Despite inflation and higher living costs, people were unwilling to cut back on travel plans. Over the holiday period, the busiest airports ever were recorded. Overall, a record 7.5 million travelers were forecasted to take to the skies, surpassing the 7.3 million passengers in 2019.
Airlines for America (A4A), an association representing major U.S. passenger and cargo airlines, projected a demand of 2.8 million passengers flying per day up to and through Christmas (December 21-December 25), a 16% increase over 2022, and 3 million passengers per day post-Christmas (December 26-29).
Based on previous year’s experience, we saw aviation in 2023 taking a more active approach, seeking solutions to better meet the peak demand of the holiday season. Aggressive hiring strategies and schedule adaptations aimed to address Air Traffic Control (ATC) staffing shortages. Other initiatives included the application of advanced technologies to reduce airport congestion and delays during check-in, security, boarding, and baggage collection.
Passengers in Focus
Airports worldwide showcased true innovation and customer-centric value in their commitment to enhancing the air traveler’s experience, particularly at some of the world’s busiest airports.
Imagine being at Barcelona International Airport and being greeted with funky beats and talented dancers breakdancing to the delight of growing crowds of passengers. Last summer, Aena’s airports turned into a concert/dance-like experience with their “Feel the Rhythm” campaign.
In the Middle East…
Bahrain International Airport, in collaboration with Gulf Air and the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority, offered its passengers free city tours to visit Bahrain’s landmarks while waiting for connecting flights.
Changi Airport Group launched its Roblox metaverse “Changi/Verse”. This virtual world enables customers to explore and engage with various sections of the airport (i.e., control tower, dinosaur display, etc.). It includes mini games that simulate the airport experience. There were even prizes to win!
In the United States…
Miami International Airport has been hosting its “MIA Airport Instruction and Readiness Tour (MiAair)” to support children with special needs. The program intends to make them more comfortable with the travel experience. Children learn about airport processes such as getting their boarding pass, going through security, and boarding the airplane. The program has also helped employees better understand the needs of individuals with disabilities.
Net Zero Emissions and Waste Reduction
Airports, airlines, and ground handlers are strongly committed to meeting a 2050 carbon-neutral goal. Despite major challenges, the industry is a powerful lighting rod for all industries to follow. Here are some examples:
- Amsterdam Airport Schiphol recently received the highest level of sustainability recognition from the ACI. The airport plans to run entirely on sustainable solar, wind, and thermal energy by 2050. Furthermore, it will replace airside vehicles with an interconnected fleet of autonomous, emission-free vehicles.
- Delhi International Airport, the first carbon-neutral airport in the APAC region, is working toward a 2030 net-zero emissions goal through energy conservation and an emission management system. It has already installed a 7.8MW solar photovoltaic (PV) system on-site and replaced 90% of its airside vehicles with 64 EVs. This results in a reduction of almost 1,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
- London Heathrow Airport is moving toward its net-zero goal through ground-based initiatives, including a 45% reduction in carbon by 2030, investing in energy-efficient infrastructure, using zero-emissions airport vehicles, and conducting a trial to test lower-carbon concrete, purported to cut emissions by 50% over conventional concrete.
Among the airlines advancing sustainability is American Airlines. It became the second global airline named on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, an ESG-based global index. Japan’s ANA Group also holds this distinction.
For its part, Delta is using a two-pillar approach – an embedded sustainability culture and the elimination of its climate impact. Its approach includes fleet modifications and improved routing, reduced catering service weight, and decreased portable water on board.
The Path Ahead
Based on the advancements in aviation in 2023, the industry has much to look forward to. Experts suggest 2024 to be a milestone for global passenger traffic recovery as it reaches 9.4 billion passengers, surpassing the 9.2 billion passengers registered in 2019. Nevertheless, challenges related to supply chain disruptions, aircraft availability, and rising fuel prices must be addressed immediately to support more optimal services.
Expect the industry to continue focusing on technology as a revenue-generator and to achieve product differentiation. Consciously observing what the competition is doing has also moved to the forefront and is likely to continue in 2024, with industry leaders always looking for ways to improve their organizations’ operations. An important task for airlines and airports will be to expand the initiatives undertaken to improve sustainability and passenger experience in the year ahead and beyond.