Stability in short supply in fragmented Asia Pacific recovery
An article by Chris Allan - Head of Accounts & Partnerships (East)
Asia Pacific’s aviation industry has gone from being one of the world’s fastest growing markets to one of the slowest to collectively emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
The wide-ranging – and in some cases polar opposite - approaches taken by governments has made meaningful short or medium-term planning extremely difficult for those involved. Any green shoots of recovery that began to sprout last year were often once again uprooted by the rise of Omicron.
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And now, even as some countries, like Australia and Singapore are beginning to loosen their COVID measures with restrictions being eased and travel corridors widened, the regional fragmentation and the continuation of inconsistent governmental approaches has resulted in empty terminals and idle aircraft. In 2021, Hong Kong International Airport handled just 1.4 million passengers compared to 71.5 million in 2019, and while the Chinese domestic market offers some solace there appears to be only limited respite in the coming months.
Ultimately decisions taken by politicians and policy makers are finely balanced and hugely challenging, weighing up a much bigger picture than just the aviation industry alone, but nonetheless it has created an environment of huge uncertainty for an industry that’s already suffered terribly over the past two years. Add to this the unfolding events in Ukraine and the impact this is having on jet fuel prices, coupled with the extra track miles required to avoid the conflict region, and you have an operating environment where predictability, stability and resilience are currently in short supply.
It’s that search for predictability and resilience that I keep hearing in conversations with aviation leaders right across the region, especially those who are now taking tentative steps towards enabling and retaining recovery.
It’s the search for predictability and resilience that I keep hearing in conversations with aviation leaders right across the region...
Predictability has long been seen as the Holy Grail for our industry. Even prior to COVID-19, we had all long accepted that the multitude of factors which influence and impact an airline schedule simply will never paint the same picture twice. The vagaries of people’s behaviour, local and global weather conditions and the sheer interconnectedness of our industry all forge together to create an acceptably predictable uncertainty. But is there another way? Can we move from coping to having control?
I’ve had a number of discussions about how we can help airport operators, Air Navigation Service Providers and airlines alike make use the data rich environment they work in to do exactly this and support better strategic and tactical planning. That might mean dealing with scenarios none of us have seen or assessed before thanks to COVID’s geographical influences on things like peak schedule timings or unusual fleet mixes used by carriers operating at their airfield.
Tools that we’ve developed with some of our industry partners, combined with years of UK and international operational expertise and analytics experience, allow us to work with operators to model multiple possibilities and what-if scenarios, whether looking at the day of operation or planning towards future capital investment. It gives airports the confidence to take decisions that deliver the best possible outcomes, and in the current environment that’s a huge competitive advantage.
Similarly, Asia Pacific has truly taken the concept of digitalisation and digital towers to its heart. The work NATS has been doing with our partners at Searidge Technologies – who are already hugely active in region, notably in Singapore and Hong Kong – continues to challenge people’s assumptions as to the capabilities and accessibility of this technology. Last year we unveiled our five digital tower operating models designed to allow everyone from the smallest airfields to the largest hubs access to the significant benefits on offer from this transformative technology.
My expectation is there will be a great deal of interest around the idea of the ‘hybrid digital tower’, where it’s possible to augment an airport’s existing control tower with the tools, technologies and benefits many believed only possible within more a conventional digital tower set up. A hybrid deployment brings the safety and efficiency enhancements of a digital tower within reach of an even broader range of airports, where the business case for replacing their current conventional tower may not stack up. It’s something I believe could be a watershed moment for airport ATC digitalisation and is a solution that is unique to the NATS-Searidge partnership.
Finally, on a personal note, as someone relatively new in post, I am looking forward enormously to (hopefully) being able to travel more freely around the region in the coming months. The chance to meet more of our teams, customers and industry partners face to face can’t come soon enough. Despite its current challenges, this remains an incredibly dynamic, exciting part of the world with an aviation industry that has often led the way in terms of innovation, expansion, and advancement. I’m certain it will again and I look forward to working with the industry to find new ways for NATS to play our part.
This remains an incredibly dynamic, exciting part of the world with an aviation industry that has often led the way in terms of innovation, expansion, and advancement.
In the meantime, if you ever want to get in touch with me directly, I'd be delighted to talk. Please contact me using the form below.