The rapid rebound in passenger flights over the past 12 months led many to believe a return to 2019 traffic levels could come a lot quicker than experts were predicting during the depths of the pandemic. Is that momentum now slowing?
It is perhaps hardly surprising. After two northern summers of restrictions and missed vacations, there was naturally a surge of pent-up demand as rules were relaxed. The tidal wave may now have broken, with IATA data showing global traffic at 73.7% of 2019 levels, compared with 74.6% in July.
Factor in a worsening dip in consumer and business confidence with rising global inflation, and China’s stubborn refusal to ditch its zero-Covid policy and it is beginning to look like recent hopes of a resumption of normal service before 2024 might have been optimistic.
That seems to be Airbus’s view. The world’s biggest aircraft manufacturer continues to be bullish about prospects for its aircraft, particularly the A320neo family and A350 widebody. It is still targeting a monthly production rate for its single-aisle range of 65 a month.
However, chief executive Guillaume Faury confirmed in London this week that the Toulouse-based airframer is now looking at achieving that milestone in 2024, rather than 2023 as it had speculated earlier this year. Concerns over a creaking supply chain as much as faltering demand are behind that.
That said, 65 narrowbodies a month – on top of what a still-troubled Boeing will be producing by then, assuming it can put its 737 Max problems behind it (of which more below) – still points to a flourishing future for the aerospace and aviation sectors in the second half of the decade.
Faury’s counterpart in Seattle would love to have the Frenchman’s concerns. Boeing faces a race to certificate the largest and smallest variants of the Max before a new ruling comes into force that will compel the manufacturer to introduce a costly and time-consuming cockpit modification.
A rule, introduced by President Trump in 2020, requiring the fitting of a flight crew alerting system will apply to all aircraft models not approved by the FAA before 27 December – like the exempt Max 8 and Max 9, the still-uncertificated Max 7 and Max 10 do not have the equipment installed.
This week, Delta Air Lines, a major Max 10 customer with 100 on order, said it had a “Plan B” if Boeing fails to get the two types certificated before then. Other carriers too may have to make big decisions. Delta’s rival United Airlines has 237 Max 10 orders and Southwest 160 for the Max 7.
The world’s biggest annual business aviation convention – hosted by trade association NBAA – begins in Orlando on Tuesday 18th, with the sector still in robust health after weathering the Covid-19 downturn much better than its commercial cousin.
Many of the world’s wealthy and powerful continued to fly during the crisis as airlines were grounded. Meanwhile, the knock-on effects of commercial recovery – chaos at airports and worries over last-minute cancelled flights – persuaded many loyal airline customers into private aviation for the first time.
While flying a Gulfstream or a Bombardier Global might not be that that dissimilar to piloting a commercial airliner (although, if anything, business jets tend to be first in line for the latest cockpit gizmos), work patterns tend to be very different.
Rather than flying schedules, crews are often on call to fly to a host of destinations, some for the first time. Layovers can be long, and captains are often responsible for their passengers and crews on the ground in remote locations, organising transport, accommodation and catering, and generally taking decisions on the hoof.
For many pilots, it is an attractive and exciting career option. Expect, as that part of the industry continues to thrive, some healthy competition for talent as business aviation operators attempt to entice experienced and ambitious pilots over to their side of the market.
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