Aircraft interiors providers face a 60% drop in available spend for their products this year as airlines operate in survival mode amid the Covid-19 pandemic, industry observers have suggested.

However, there will be strong demand for cabin interior products containing antimicrobial agents as airlines seek to convince passengers that they have taken steps to minimise the risk of virus transmission on flights.

These were some of the key points to emerge from a 17 June virtual Passenger Experience Conference panel discussion on the outlook for aircraft interiors.

“Cabin retrofits largely came to a very strong halt at the end of March,” said Gary Weissel, managing officer at aircraft interiors specialist Tronos Aviation Consulting. “Until we see financial recovery for airlines we anticipate not seeing a return to the glory days for aircraft interiors, particularly on the retrofit side.”

Weissel expects a 60% drop in aircraft interiors spending in 2020, a 50% reduction in 2021, and no “major recovery” before 2023. Over the next five years, he sees a 35% reduction in overall interiors spending compared with “what we anticipated seeing at the end of 2019”.

Don Buchman, vice-president commercial aviation at satellite-based in-flight connectivity provider Viasat, agrees that “we’re seeing a slowdown in retrofits”, but also sees an opportunity. The focus on hygiene in the post-Covid era will make the use of passengers’ personal devices for in-flight entertainment – rather than embedded seatback screens – “more important than ever in this environment”, says Buchman.

This focus on cleanliness will also drive up demand for cabin products that contain antimicrobial agents designed to kill viruses on surfaces, predicts Matthew Nicholls, sales director at aircraft interior fabrics company Tapis.

“The whole antimicrobial space has been really interesting. Those technologies can be really important in encouraging people back onto flights,” says Nicholls. He adds that there is “a lot of innovation coming” but stresses that “good old-fashioned elbow grease” must be deployed alongside processes such as electrostatic spraying which “can only reach the bits you can see”.

However, panellists decried the “massive lack of standardisation” on disinfecting aircraft interiors, and called for cross-industry standards to be introduced.

“We need standards on cleaning and disinfection,” says Weissel. “Right now it’s every airline for themselves – some will go above and beyond and some will perform lip service.”

Larger aircraft interiors companies are seen as likely to fare better in the Covid-19 crisis than smaller outfits, and some consolidation is possible.

“There will be consolidation lower in the supply chain where there are a lot of mom-and-pop shops,” says Weissel. “Large suppliers that supply both linefit and retrofit are in a better position within the industry to weather the storm.”