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Business as usual: How post-lockdown aviation is set to change

With passenger numbers bouncing back faster than predicted – and demand set to exceed pre-pandemic levels by December – aviation component manufacturing, repair and recycling experts Artemis Aerospace give the lowdown on the climate-related changes in air travel of the near-future. 

As COVID-19 spread worldwide in 2020, international air travel came to an almost complete standstill, and the aviation industry described it as ‘the worst year in history for air travel demand’. The following year and 2021 wasn’t any better, as lockdowns worldwide, often with different restrictions in different countries, made any kind of travel well-nigh impossible.

IATA has predicted that by the end of 2023, most regions will either be at, or exceeding, demand levels prior to the pandemic, and that the aviation industry will return to profitability. As an example, Boeing delivered a total of 480 commercial aircraft throughout 2022, a 40% increase from 2021, making it the busiest year since 2018.

Both demand and capacity are increasing considerably, particularly for flights for leisure purposes, although a shortage of skilled personnel, rising inflation, global supply chain issues and general industrial unrest continue to cause problems. Last year, Boeing claimed that over 600,000 new pilots would be needed between now and 2041 to keep up with requirements

Automation

Digital advancement is expected to take off in the next few years with artificial intelligence and data analytics contributing towards more effective supply chain logistics, production and maintenance. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are increasingly using smart factory technologies, such as robotics and the IoT (Internet of Things) to precipitate aircraft production.

Machines can run mostly autonomously and will correct themselves and learn from errors. The fine tuning of the digital thread should also have a significant effect on both aircraft and component manufacture. This is a process by which information from the supply chain, smart factory, connected systems and customer feedback is automatically woven into the whole manufacturing procedure, so performance can be continually improved and streamlined.

Sustainability

Progress is being made in the use of both electric and hydrogen propulsion for engines, particularly for smaller aircraft. A nine-seater electric aircraft is under development by Rolls Royce and already has a customer in Wideroe, the largest regional airline operating in Scandinavia. In addition, Rolls Royce (in a partnership with easyJet) announced at the end of last year the successful test conclusion of a converted AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine running on hydrogen.

Before that, there was Harbour Air’s six-seater DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver, which had achieved a thirty-minute flight in 2019. Since then, Harbour Air has partnered with a new battery supplier to provide a lighter and longer-lasting power source and is hoping to gain certification to start transporting passengers on electric seaplanes in the next two years.

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) fall into two main categories – biofuels, which come from a range of biological sources, and synthetic electrofuels which are based on cardon dioxide and hydrogen. Both of these are still largely in the R&D stages as aviation industries commit to meeting a target of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. In the last year, however, several SAF-powered test flights have been undertaken, so progress, although slow, is being made.

More on sustainable aviation and travel: 

WATCH: World’s first liquid hydrogen flight heralded decarbonisation watershed

Wizz Air begins Sustainability Ambassador programme

International Airlines Group boosts UK waste-to-fuel research

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