The alarming state of airline innovation: A summary of LIH’s reportĀ 

by | Aug 25, 2023 | Airlines, Digital Transformation, Travel Tech

“The patent landscape within any industry serves as a robust measure of its dynamism.”

In a quest for “the truth about the state of innovation in the airline industry” Lufthansa Innovation Hub (LIH) research has turned towards patents, harnessing them as a roadmap for the industry’s commitment to innovation and an indicator for its future trajectory. As the first public patent analysis at this scale for the airline industry, the research is ground breaking and contains both surprising and deeply concerning findings.

Focusing on core operations of the top 50 airlines worldwide by revenue, the report examined their patent portfolios (provided they had filed at least one patent based on the earliest priority date within the last 20 years) to create a roadmap for innovation since 2000. Here are three key takeaways from the report.


1. Patent activity in the airline industry has fallen to an all-time low

Breaking the last twenty years into three phases, the report describes 2000-2023 as ‘The Steady State’, 2013 as ‘The Sudden Peak’, and 2016-present as ‘The Slowdown.’ Concerningly, following the declining innovation trend, the graph positions present day as sitting at an all time low for the industry.



2. US-based airlines dominate patent activity

Despite the leading patent filers being “geographically diverse,” when looking at the number of patents each airline filed, the US tops the leader board – and by some way. Although the report suggests this indicates a strong focus on innovation in the region, it acknowledges this could also “be a reflection of amore litigious US environment.”



Interestingly, based on the volume of citations their patents have amassed, it is also US airlines American and United that are setting industry standards. The report finds “over half of all forward citations across airline patents are linked to patents held by these two airlines.”


3. Airlines are focusing on the wrong traveller pain points

Cross referencing the focus of airline innovation against point points identified by passengers, the study reveals that the two do not align. Where 33 per cent of negative airline reviews mention flight disruptions, 11 per cent refer to carry-on luggage, and 9 per cent are about punctuality, the primary focus of airline innovation is on seat design.



From the report’s comprehensive analysis, seat comfort and legroom only feature as “minor irritants” for passengers and therefore indicate that this overwhelming focus could be misplaced. With airlines’ innovation not being directed towards their passengers’ most pressing concerns, the industry risks missing out on opportunities to improve the passenger experience.

It is important to note, the report highlighted two caveats to consider when interpreting its findings, you can read them in the full report here. LIH’s analysis of the patent landscape offers a unique lens through which to chart innovation. Looking at the findings, it is evident airlines need to re-energise and recalibrate innovation efforts if they hope to make meaningful progress towards a better industry.


For more report summaries see: