Since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, borders have opened back up, travel restrictions have been lifted in virtually every country on Earth, and people are back to flying again.
However, getting passengers back onto planes was just one problem facing the commercial aviation industry in the months following the pandemic. The industry is also facing worker shortages and reduced resources that are making it harder to meet the demands of the record numbers of passengers.
As a result, airlines and airports are looking to modernize their operations, where possible, and use data and new technologies to streamline operations.
To get better insights into the challenges facing different airlines and airports around the globe, and to learn more about their priorities in the wake of the pandemic, we’ve reached out to a handful of the leading global airline and commercial aviation industry associations. In the resulting series of interviews, we’ll explore the trends impacting the operations of the airlines and airports in their region, and discuss the steps being taken to help solve their problems.
In our first Q&A in this exciting new series, Abdul Wahab Teffaha, the Secretary General of the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO) shares his thoughts.
Connected Aviation Today (CAT): The aviation industry in the Middle East has historically been heavily dependent on international travel. Have we seen a change with the emergence of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and an increase in passengers who are young, educated, and tech-savvy?
Abdul Wahab Teffaha: I anticipate that the demand for air travel will grow in the region as a result of its younger demographic. But that does not mean the region’s role on the international travel scene will decline. There are three particular attributes that will continue to make the Middle East a pivotal market for international air traffic, including geography, economics, and the regional airlines’ industry leadership in service and passenger experience.
In regard to geography, the Arab region is vast. Also, its centralized location makes it a vital crossing point. This ensures that its airlines will continue to play a major role in global traffic.
The second attribute is the added value that air transport provides to economic development. The economic impact of air travel has led to significant investments in infrastructure. Few other regions are putting the same focus on air infrastructure development, either because of geographical limitations or because they do not place the same value on air transportation and its contribution to their economic development.
“When the quality of service of the airline is coupled with the quality of the infrastructure, the result is a very compelling passenger experience from origin to destination.” — Abdul Wahab Teffaha
The third attribute is the airlines themselves. The airlines of the region are pacesetters in terms of quality of service and the attention they provide to customers. The Arab airlines have the youngest fleet in the world. The Arab airlines operate 1400 aircraft at an average age of approximately 7.2 years. When the quality of service of the airline is coupled with the quality of the infrastructure, the result is a very compelling passenger experience from origin to destination.
CAT: Do you anticipate growth among low-cost carriers (LCCs) given the strong entrenchment of full-service carriers (FSCs)?
Abdul Wahab Teffaha: I don’t anticipate considerable growth among the LCC businesses. For LCCs in the Arab market to grow at the same pace as in Europe, USA, and some parts of Asia, we would need a paradigm shift in the region’s regulatory system. Although many of the countries of the region apply liberal policies in terms of market access, we have not yet reached the stage of a regional single market across the Arab world.
However, in the absence of a single Arab aviation market, I can see exciting growth opportunities for LCCs in a hybrid model or in playing a greater role in point-to-point markets where tourism or geography provide opportunity.
CAT: The aviation industry has played a key role in the growth of the GCC. The well-established players are continuously revamping their commercial models and operations to be ready for waves of growth. There are also now new players entering the market. Will these new players upset the equilibrium or set the stage for more aggressive growth in the region?
Abdul Wahab Teffaha: I believe having more players in the market will add value primarily to the customer. And when I say customer, I don’t mean only the customer residing in the region. Our customers are all around the world. Having more competition will also incentivize airlines to push the envelope in providing a better customer experience.
“This region has a deeply rooted wealth of attractive attributes – from historical sites, to pristine seas, to diverse ecological systems, to a culture of hospitality.” — Abdul Wahab Teffaha
Having multiple airlines in the region does not mean that they only compete with each other. They are competing among themselves and with other airlines of the world.
Moreover, the transformation that the region is witnessing will create massive growth opportunities. This region has a deeply rooted wealth of attractive attributes – from historical sites, to pristine seas, to diverse ecological systems, to a culture of hospitality. These attributes will continue to attract people to travel to this region, leading to continuous growth.
CAT: The GCC region is home to some of the world’s most advanced airports. What can passengers expect in the future?
Abdul Wahab Teffaha: I believe what passengers can expect is a smoother, hassle-free experience. Airports and airlines in the region are at the forefront of using technology to facilitate travel processes. In some of our airports today, using biometrics, passengers walk through immigration without even stopping.
What I expect in the near future is a passenger experience that starts with the passenger using their mobile device to make a reservation, buy a ticket, upload their visa and identification, and check-in. Upon entering the airport, passengers would then put a label on their bag from a kiosk (while waiting for an RFID baggage label to become a reality), drop the bag, and walk through immigration while being biometrically identified, only stopping at a smart security check point (where, even there, biometrics are used) to direct you to simple checks versus more extensive ones.
“What I also expect is that, when navigating our airports, the passenger does not go through any document checks, which were already done and verified digitally before departing.” — Abdul Wahab Teffaha
What I also expect is that, when navigating our airports, the passenger does not go through any document checks, which were already done and verified digitally before departing. Arriving passengers would also be able to walk through immigration and immediately pick up their bags. That I expect to start happening within the next two years at our airports.
CAT: In this post-pandemic world, with record passenger numbers, can anything derail the region’s growth?
Abdul Wahab Teffaha: The blessing of geography sometimes creates problems. This region is the cradle of civilization. But it’s also, unfortunately, a hot spot for conflicts.
However, despite a few localized conflicts, the region, as a whole, seems to have moved beyond extreme polarization. Therefore, I don’t really see anything local in the region that can derail its growth. There can be some ups and downs, but as history is showing us, after every down, there is a huge up that compensates for the down period.
The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not represent the views, opinions, or endorsement of Collins Aerospace, its affiliates, or employees.
Abdul Wahab Teffaha | Secretary General, AACO
After his post-graduate studies in Socio – Economic Development & Political Sociology, Mr. Teffaha joined AACO as an assistant tariff analyst and rose up in the ranks until becoming Assistant Secretary General in 1992.
He was elected Secretary General of the Association in June 1996 and still serves in this capacity.
Mr. Teffaha played a key role in developing a new strategy for AACO based on delivering specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound results to AACO member airlines. Joint projects between AACO members were quickly launched and include, to date, projects that deal with distribution agreements, ground handling, fuel, training, and MRO cooperation. Mr. Teffaha also leads AACO on all industry related issues.