As air travel resumes on a tentative model of ‘endemic’ infection management, has the industry’s digitalization lessons made it more resilient?

Over the past 22 months, the downtime in the global aviation industry has given it an opportunity to radically transform and modernize traditionally manual processes in flight operations and airline management.

The future of flight lies not only in the marketable aspects of aviation like flight and jet purchases, but also in the back-end factors propelling tenable flight operations in the long term.

Automated and contactless systems have been adopted for overcome challenges in identity recognition; unmanned aerial vehicles now deliver aid to rural parts of a country, and ultraviolet light is being used to sanitize aircraft cabins and flight decks.

Technology has infiltrated virtually every aspect of aviation, and this will only be more prevalent in the coming years to keep passengers healthy and safe.

Contactless journeys in the endemic era

When travel was at an all-time low in 2020, the use of automated gates, self-service kiosks and bag drops still saw a 6% uptick as biometrics and other contactless technology became an integral part of a seamless travel experience.

To reassure travelers of safety compliance and improve their travel experience, airports expedited the adoption of biometric touchpoints, and these are expected to quadruple by 2030. Such technology streamlines the workflows of airline and airport staff, and raises the efficiency of customs clearance processes by reducing inspection time, while being compliant with strict standards.

Technological innovations that boost travelers’ confidence at multiple checkpoints in the airport and aircraft will continue to thrive, as contactless journeys remain a top-of-mind option for passengers.

On the horizon: UAM

The future of air travel will also see technology easing workflows and optimizing efficiencies, especially with the rise of autonomous aircraft and automated systems that are customizable and scalable.

Urban Air Mobility (UAM), a safe and secure urban transportation system, is emerging as a viable aviation option for passengers and cargo in congested cities. Besides addressing the problem of congestion in busy cities, it also allows the development and testing of future technologies today at a smaller scale, which is beneficial for mobility solutions that ultimately affect the individual consumers on the ground.

Currently, UAM adoption in Asia is slow compared with other regions in the world, but industry experts are optimistic about its prospects and the vision of seeing flying cars and taxis in future. The market for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) in countries such as Singapore, China and Japan is attracting greater interest from large manufacturers.

In the UAM space, data plays a vital role in as autonomous aircraft require real-time data validation and analysis to deliver accurate insights for operators. To support real-time accessibility of data and insights from the aircraft in an intuitive manner, UAM requires scalable cloud-connected flight control systems to facilitate efficient operation.

To enable UAM pilots to operate the aircraft competently and safely, the interface also has to be intuitive, user friendly and automated with advanced algorithms.

Democratizing aviation digitalization

As international borders reopen, the importance of brand trust must not be trivialize.

Disruptions in travel have resulted in a shift in customer expectations. Now, instead of pre-pandemic concerns such as seat pricing and in-flight amenities, travelers will grapple with brand trust and pandemic hygiene standards.

Maintaining high standards for hygiene and cleanliness will give passengers peace of mind, easing their concerns and enhancing their travel experience. With technology making it economical to sanitize flight cabins quickly with UV light, passengers can feel safer, while airline operators can differentiate themselves with the best use of technology for seamless, contactless travel experiences.

The industry now needs to democratize technology further, making it more accessible for crew, passengers and even third-party sites and operators, so that eventually, the costs of implementation and operationalization will not be a hindrance to further growth of the sector.

It is now time to envision the future of aviation and let technology take flight.