As in-person events during the pandemic have moved to virtual platforms, Farnborough Air Show 2020 was no exception. With a focus on aerospace and the shifting landscape, it was nearly impossible not to consider what commercial aviation recovery will look like. What is required to make travel safe again? How will industry and government collaborate? What is needed to boost passenger confidence? These questions and more were discussed by a panel of industry experts.

Featuring panelists from the airlines, industry, government and regulators, the Commercial Aviation Relaunch and Recovery panel delved into how to rebuild confidence and get passengers flying again, exploring clear and robust policy implementation, and plans by airports and airlines to ensure technology and revised hygiene practices are adopted.

“The impact of COVID-19 on the aviation ecosystem has been unprecedented and dramatic,” according to the opening remarks from the panel moderator, David Stewart from Oliver Wyman. Stewart is a recognized expert in multiple aspects of the airline, aerospace and maintenance supply business and he noted that he has worked through “three major aviation downturns, yet none as deep or as broad as what we are facing today.”

Survey Says

Stewart highlighted a recent Oliver Wyman survey in an effort to identify factors that would boost passenger confidence in travel. Respondents felt that the biggest factor to returning to travel is the development of government policy and the lifting of travel quarantine instructions. Second, was the perceived hygiene and cleanliness of an airline, which has become one of the top three selection criteria for passengers deciding on travel options. Similarly, the perceived airport cleanliness is just as—if not more—important, according to survey respondents.

Commercial Aviation Recovery
Aviation experts from Boeing, Collins Aerospace, and the UK Dept. for Transport discuss these findings in a panel.

So, what will it take to boost passenger confidence and ensure it is safe to fly again? Mike Delaney, head of Boeing’s Confident Travel Initiative, LeAnn Ridgeway, leader of Collins Aerospace’s Redefining Air Travel task force, and Jack Goodwin, Deputy Director of the Restart, Recovery and Engagement Unit for the UK’s Department for Transport, all shared their insights.

Taking a Systems Engineering Approach to Recovery

“First we want to ensure a safe and healthy journey or experience for the passengers and the crew,” Delaney said. His team approached boosting passenger confidence, using proven aerospace and engineering principles to solve safety issues. Using a multilayered approach, he identified three layers of protection that are needed: protecting the journey to the airport and through the airport by understanding each of the risk points, developing a clean airplane design program for the aircraft itself, and finally minimizing transmission of the virus while in-flight by engaging air and filtering systems with operational procedures.

Similarly, LeeAnn Ridgeway, VP of Avionics and General Manager for Collins Aerospace Information Management Systems group, is also the head of a taskforce that is collaborating with industry and government to redefine the future of air travel. “In this time of need, it is refreshing to see our industry come together to tackle these issues. It is going to take all of us coming together – from OEMs, to airlines, to government, medical professionals, academia – to restore this confidence,” she said.

Ridgeway agreed the journey needs to be viewed as a system, stating, “From curb to curb, it needs to be as pristine as we can have it.”

Building Blocks of Technology

Currently, Collins Aerospace has a large focus directly on airports. “Travelers want consistency and confidence during the travel experience, and that experience starts before entering the airport,” she said.

According to Ridgeway, technology will play a significant role in the recovery. “First and foremost, biometrics is going to be the key enabler to reduce virus transmission by providing a contactless journey through the airport using facial recognition with a single-token journey and getting the passenger from curb to gate,” Ridgeway shared. “The good news is that biometrics had a business case before COVID-19 to improve the passenger experience and the efficiency of moving through the airport and boarding the aircraft. Now we have the added benefit of minimizing contact to reduce the transmission of the virus,” she added.

Global aviation associations including ICAO, IATA, and ACI have recently acknowledged support for the recommendation of using biometrics and Ridgeway predicts that it is going to be the number one building block for developing solutions to boost passenger confidence along the journey.

Additional technologies will incorporate biometrics with mobile device technologies to avoid contact with devices for payment as well as artificial intelligence to map out congestion points within an airport and alerting systems. AI will also play a role in maximizing airport systems and leveraging data trends to improve efficiencies.

Collaboration for Protecting Health and Safety

Government’s role in the aviation industry is primarily to protect the health and the safety of its citizens. Since the pandemic’s start, Goodwin in his role with the UK’s Department for Transport has been collaborating with operators, airlines, manufacturers, and airports to identify risks and create self-quarantining, testing procedures, as well as determining countries where it is safe to travel to and from. He said that the government is striving to lift quarantines from various countries as measures are put into place to reduce virus transmission.

But to really boost confidence, according to all of the panelists, consistency and communication will be critical. That requires global cooperation of implementing best practices and solutions to ensure health and safety to reassure passengers that it is safe to travel again.

Learn more about commercial aviation recovery and the perspectives discussed at the 2020 Farnborough International Airshow, click here.

Shany Seawright

About Shany Seawright

A senior executive at Strategic Communications Group and Managing Editor of Connected Aviation Today, as well as other publications, Seawright oversees the editorial direction of the publication and managed the editorial staff.