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Airline Business @ 25 - Editor's comment

In 2035, when the editor of this magazine looks back at another 25 years of the airline business, what sort of industry will they be reporting on? Airline Business offers it own radical vision

Inside this special anniversary issue some of the industry's most influential leaders of the past two-and-a-half decades have expressed their hopes and fears for air transport. We'll no doubt invite some of them back in 2035 to reflect on how these hopes and fears have materialised and what they see for the coming 25 years - taking us all the way out to 2050.

So what sort of industry does Airline Business see in 25 years' time? Our view is that the "profitability line" seen on the centrespread timeline, which has zigzagged so spectacularly in the past decade, will take another decade to stop oscillating wildly. Then it will enter a sustained period of solid money-making and finally deliver a stable return on its cost of capital.

Our optimism is based on a belief that by then the consolidation phase, which we are witnessing the genesis of at the moment, will have played out. Perhaps we are fantasists to believe that by then rational competition will prevail - mainly because it never has - we'll see.

At the network level there will be three global carriers based on the alliances we know today, albeit with some defections and changing allegiances. The ability to create true global businesses will be based on something the industry has long craved: the end of national ownership restrictions and the creation of global open skies.

The airline groups Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star will be taking advantage of these freedoms. There will only be one other player capable of competing with these global giants - Emirates, which will lead a Gulf-based grouping. At the regional level independent, point-to-point carriers will seamlessly feed the global networks.

The biggest markets today of Europe and North America will be eclipsed by Asia, driven by an almost insatiable demand from India and China.

The inexorable growth of air travel will require several "super-hubs" on each continent. The airport experience will be transformed into a customer-centric one: everything has gone mobile, paperless and "shop-less". What happens with security is the biggest unknown on the airport stage.

The aircraft at these airports will be radically different, belonging to a new generation, including one built by a Chinese-led consortium, replacing the old Airbus A380s and Boeing Dreamliners. We would not be surprised to see the return of the supersonic jet for business travellers and the faster-than-expected arrival of ultra-efficient mass transport designs.

The world's continental air traffic control system providers will be putting the finishing touches to a Global Single Skies deal: the entire thing is run from a floating control station in international waters in the middle of the Pacific.

Hologram technology means the more mundane business meetings and trivial leisure trips will not require face-to-face travel but humanity's innate need to "touch and feel" fuels air transport's continuing rise.

But the big global unknown in all of this is how environmental factors will play out. Quite simply, in 25 years time will humans be able to afford to travel as much as they do today? Will they have to earn "carbon credits" for their annual trip home? Will flying be rationed?

Our view is that the environment will have a more profound impact on how air transport develops than all other possible factors combined. We won't be talking about the aviation value chain anymore, we will be talking about the environment chain. If air transport doesn't forge the right links in this chain, it will break.

Whatever the next 25 years brings, one thing is certain: this business will be inspired by brilliant entrepreneurs, leaders and visionaries. The next generation of Kellehers, Bransons, Mayrhubers, Andersons and Chews are out there waiting to be discovered or to discover themselves. Your place on the cover of Airline Business awaits.

Mark Pilling - Editor Airline Business

Airline Business editor Mark Pilling 



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