In a series of personal insights,industry figures offer their views on how the business has developed over the past 20 years and where it goes from here.Giovanni Bisignani - director general and chief executive  IATA presents his views.

Predicting the future and prescribing industry remedies are two favourite pastimes for those who follow air transport. Recent crises make the former next to impossible and the latter absolutely essential. The only certainty is the need for change.

But where will change come from? The first task is to identify the component parts of our industry. Leaving commercial considerations aside, the industry is a combination of technology, processes, policy and people. There is no technological revolution waiting to happen. Although the fuel crisis is creating interest in alternative fuel sources, it is difficult to see these having a significant impact in the next two decades. There is potential for processes, policy and people to affect the change that air transport desperately needs.

Processes are evolving to make the industry more convenient and efficient. Security will certainly be an issue that stays with us. And there is no doubt that we will grow. If history is a guide, we double in size every decade. That means that by 2025 passenger numbers will grow from 2 billion to 6 billion and cargo from 23 million tonnes to 72 million tonnes. Simplifying the Business is a good start to using technology more efficiently. While we do not have the next generation of process change mapped out, it is clear that our airport, security and air navigation partners must work with us to deal more efficiently with growing numbers.

The policy vision is clearer. History has shown that policy can create an industry. Where was Dubai 20 years ago? Singapore’s Changi airport had only been operating for four years. Our future industry will look very different. China and India could easily replace North America and Europe in importance and size. And the markets of the future could be locations that are only at the periphery of the industry today. Policy will play a key role in determining production centres and shaping markets.

We are not looking for handouts. But we need governments that understand the benefits of air transport and are willing to support it with effective policy. Specifically, what will this mean? It means that we must take a realistic look at policies as broad ranging as environment, ownership, liberalisation, passenger rights, labour and so on to ensure that they support healthy growth.

I encourage government leaders of today to lay the groundwork for industry change by laying the framework for progressive liberalisation. If we remain bound by archaic ownership and control rules in a bilateral system, I fear that our industry will never generate the return on capital necessary to be an attractive investment. And, we will certainly never generate the surplus needed to ensure that aviation gets anything but hand-me-down technology from other industries for alternative fuel sources.

Finally, there are the people. Our industry has always had great people. But in the transition from a glamour industry to a global mass transit business, some have lost their way. If we are to be a viable industry in 20 years, we will need a new relationship with labour that shares the benefits of success as well as the burden of making it happen.

If government policy can provide a level playing field that promotes growth and ensures safety, the only other thing we would ask of governments is to leave us alone and let the airlines get on with business – including innovating process and bringing people along with change. We may end up with fewer industry players. And not every country may have its flag on an aircraft tail. But I am sure that commercial forces would find a way to cost-effectively and safely connect people and move goods around the planet. Would that not be the definition of a successful air transport industry?

Source: Airline Business