Livetalk with Stefan Pichler on the struggle for survival and the future of the aviation industry.
Stefan Pichler:Retired CEO of Royal Jordanian Airlines, Air Berlin, Thomas Cook, Fiji Airways, Jazeera Airways; retired Lufthansa Board Member.
When various airlines were in crisis in the past, Stefan Pichler was there to save the day with his know-how and managed the turnaround for these companies. As an experienced aviation and tourism manager, he held several board positions at well-known airlines until his retirement in September 2020 and ensured their continued existence.
The airline industry in particular has been severely affected by the current dramatic COVID-19 crisis, and there is a distinct trend towards more competitive privatization. It is therefore not easy to assess the long-term development in the aviation industry. Stefan Pichler sees a change in the future due to many new providers in the low-cost sector with a faster adaptability to the market, which will make it difficult for established airlines. Now it is no longer about the profitability of an airline, but about cash flow and cost management to ensure its survival.
Above all, the upstream and downstream stages of the value chain, such as airport transportation services, shops and restaurants, would currently receive too little attention. In this context, airports will have to create new consumption opportunities to generate attractiveness: "Many smaller suppliers will disappear and there will be a concentration. I expect further oligopolization of the markets," says Pichler. Possible solutions for an upswing from the current standstill include the development of new partnerships, a comprehensive international network and improved customer loyalty. Then, from the point of view of IATA and the airlines themselves, stabilization could be achieved by 2024.
The already accelerated digitization and automation raise the question to which extent high-tech intelligent support systems for pilots and air traffic controllers will reduce personnel in this area in the future. However, in Stefan Pichler's view, this is a theoretical discussion, as customer acceptance for the replacement of pilots, controllers and cabin crew staff by machines and artificial intelligence is clearly lacking. "Therefore, there will certainly be no elimination of humans in these areas within the next 10-15 years."
Sustainability issues are also gaining new momentum in light of the pandemic situation, and meeting the Paris Climate Agreement presents the global airline industry with an issue it will not be able to ignore. However, this is mainly a question of pricing through a kerosene tax or generally more environmentally friendly models, rather than a change in technology. According to Pichler, electric aircraft or even airships would have a very limited market opportunity and therefore have no relevance for the aviation system and its value creation. On the contrary, "size and market power are the keys to success”. Thus, in line with the growth dynamics in the Asian region, mega-hubs and superjumbos will prevail in the longer term.