Last week, United Airlines made a big, bold bet on the future of airline operations domestically and beyond by placing the most significant aircraft order in the airline’s history, a total of 270 aircraft, including 200 Boeing 737 Max and 70 Airbus 321neos. While the size of the order alone certainly warranted and earned headlines, the details of their choice of aircraft and their configuration of these planes reveal a great degree of optimism for a healthy return to growth in a post-Covid environment.
- Of the 200 Boeing Max aircraft United ordered, 150 are the larger Max 10, which just completed the first flight in June, giving United greater flexibility for routes and cabin configurations.
- With this order, the airline’s fleet now has 500 narrow-body aircraft incoming starting next year, which will replace older 757s and smaller 50 seat regional jets, simplifying maintenance and offering customers a more consistent experience when they fly.
- Revealing optimism for the future of premium travel, United has committed to including seat-back in-flight entertainment in the new aircraft and dedicating a more significant share of the cabin to economy-plus and first-class seating.
As CNBC reported, United CEO Robert Kirby “expects business and international travel demand to recover ‘100%.’” He also said business travel demand is still down 60% from pre-pandemic levels, but it has been improving.
The announcement was a significant boost to optimism in the industry, a meaningful sign that better days are coming soon.
Maintaining the Fleet
There was also an important announcement on fleet maintenance which garnered less attention but which will help many airlines significantly reduce their operating costs. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Rolls-Royce plc signed a joint statement on the engine manufacturer’s commitment to more open maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services.
From the IATA/Rolls-Royce statement:
- Rolls-Royce does not prevent the development of legitimate non-OEM parts or non-OEM repairs by MRO providers and independent parts manufacturers, as long as they are approved by the appropriate airworthiness regulator;
- Rolls-Royce’s policy is to grant airlines, lessors, and MRO providers non-discriminatory access to OEM parts, repairs, and support (including access to Rolls-Royce Care);
- Rolls-Royce does not discriminate against airlines, lessors, or MRO providers that use non-OEM parts or repairs;
- Rolls-Royce will not insist that airlines or lessors subscribe to Rolls-Royce services.
“This statement is timely as the post-COVID-19 restart will see an acute need to repair damaged finances while operating at the highest standards of safety and reliability,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. “Rolls-Royce has taken a proactive approach in working with us on this commitment that will stimulate a more open MRO industry and have a long-lasting impact in the market. Competition spurs innovation and creativity while typically driving down costs, helping to keep air travel affordable. We look forward to other OEMs making similar commitments.”
The Digital Path Forward for Commercial Aviation
Airline and Airport Technology provider SITA also published its vision of recovery and progress for the industry, moving forward.
“As a key partner for the industry, and with over 1,000 airports, more than 18,000 aircraft, and over 60 governments around the world using our technology, it was important for us to provide solutions that are aligned to the industry’s priorities, maximizing return on investment and managing volatility,” said David Lavorel, CEO of SITA AT AIRPORTS AND BORDERS.
In ‘Your Runway to Success’, SITA highlights multiple solutions which help airlines and airports adapt to new market conditions and arise stronger.
SITA identified five key areas where investment in IT is likely to yield the most significant improvements. From SITA’s announcement, the five focus areas are:
- Digitalizing the new health requirements at the border
Avoiding long waiting times and lines in the airport as passenger traffic recovers will be one of the key indicators of success in managing health documentation. In response, SITA has automated the process – from submission to validation and verification – mitigating forged paper certificates and inefficiencies with manual document checking.
- Automating the passenger journey with mobile and biometric solutions
SITA advocates a touchless airport experience, enabled by mobile and biometric technologies, to help reassure passengers, put them in control, make them feel safe, and create a hassle-free journey before, during, and on arrival, and beyond.
- Delivering a touchless, mobile experience onboard with the next generation of inflight connectivity and digital applications
SITA’s Passenger IT Insights 2020 shows that more than two-thirds of all passengers opt to use their own device onboard to stay connected or access entertainment. With the touchless, mobile travel experience onboard the aircraft fast becoming the new industry standard, SITA recommends deploying its fast, uninterrupted connectivity onboard to deliver on this growing trend.
- Driving more collaboration and cost-efficiency across airport operations
With a critical need for cost containment and greater agility in operations at the airport as demand fluctuates and increases, SITA advocates its cloud technologies and systems to help manage and optimize operations and enhance collaboration among the various stakeholders.
- Driving greater efficiency and sustainability in aircraft operations
According to SITA, an area accelerated by COVID-19 is the digital transformation of the aircraft. SITA’s connected aircraft technology is delivering safer, more efficient, and more sustainable aircraft operations.
Sébastien Fabre, CEO of SITA FOR AIRCRAFT, said: “Investing in the right technologies now will deliver short, medium, and long term benefits for our industry. Digitalization is a necessity. For example, for airlines, it allows them more flexibility to deal with changing demands, achieves greater operational and cost efficiencies, and ensures long-term sustainability.”
From hardware to software, including the upkeep of both, it’s clear that the industry is ready to invest in streamlining operations, reducing operating costs without sacrificing products and services that encourage passengers to embrace their love of flying and keep them loyal.
They may be big bets, but they are safe bets.