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02 December 2021

Opinion from Adrian Leopard & Co

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World aviation on the rocks – what is the way forward?
Adrian Leopard 199

World aviation on the rocks – what is the way forward?

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What are we going to do about flying? Is now a good moment for a societal re-think?

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc across the world with economies and businesses, literally on a global scale. Indeed, who knows what further damage will follow in its wake?

One of the most significant areas of damage which has been caused and which will affect more or less all countries is aviation. Aviation has all but collapsed globally and there is no certainty as to how thing will get back together again once the pandemic has receded.

In the UK, airports have been hit incredibly badly – Cardiff has lost 86.7% of its travellers, Glasgow Prestwick, traditionally the best weather airport in the UK, 85.8%, Southampton 83.4%, London City 82.3%, Leeds Bradford 81.2% and Heathrow 72.7% - down to a mere 80.9 million passengers. Mind you that still seems quite a lot!

You might ask how on earth can businesses even stay in business with such crippling drops in revenue? Your average high street shop probably could not sustain that level of loss. Is it perhaps because these businesses are either government run in one form or another or have received huge cash injections at the cost of taxpayers?

And things show little show term chance of much in the way of improvement. Ironically, aviation businesses are probably doing themselves a lot of harm by taking the opportunity to profiteer at the expense of unfortunate holiday makers caught out by government restrictions. Such profiteering has certainly angered the public and ironically the benefit to aviation has probably been minute – all that loss of goodwill for a few bob.

But how do we see the future? With aviation so badly down, one of the beneficiaries of that must be the planet, or more particularly the global heating problem. Over the past year there has been a significant reduction in emissions – no passengers equals no flights – largely anyway. Is the general public going to be happy to “return to normal” once this is all over? Some will certainly but perhaps others may suddenly find that a bit of staycation never hurt anyone. Perhaps short distance flights should be banned in favour of trains – we could take a leaf out of France’s book on that one. Perhaps many public will still be concerned about flying because of close proximity with other people and we know there is always now going to be some risk of transmission of covid-19, probably for the rest of our lives.

It is ironical – all the bru-ha-ha about the new runway at Heathrow. At the moment I should think they have shelved that one. Indeed perhaps as a country we should shelve it. Southampton Airport has recently got permission to extend its runway – a miracle actually when you consider that its length is limited by the M27 and one end and the railway sidings at the other. We have reported on travel by airship – this is probably not going to take over from traditional aviation but again for short hauls, this may become a preferred option.

Man has always hankered to get into the sky; that great English writer H G Wells, one of the most forward looking people of his time, or indeed any time, said man would never fly. He was proved wrong in his own lifetime! Man has striven to get up there and he continues to do so. Last week we reported on a new supersonic zero carbon airliner in the pipeline. They never give up, do they? And perhaps super cars which turn into aeroplanes will be the vehicles which grace our garages in times to come. This is not fiction! Just imagine rolling down the M1 and deciding to avoid the up-coming traffic jam by taking off! Fantasy? You decide.

But back down to earth, excuse the pun, airlines are going to have to pull something out of the bag merely to survive and perhaps society needs to take this unique chance of a gap to re-think the strategy in the light of so many pressures in other areas, not least climate change which they have been chatting about in Cornwall this weekend at the G7 conference between barbecues, swims and cocktails parties.

Perhaps in the very long term we shall be turning our eyes Star-Trek-wards and making the transporter beam the new way to get to the shops. Perhaps a bit more practicable could be individual flying drones to carry one passenger and a modest amount of shopping. If they can take parcels for Amazon, they can surely take people down to the shops?

Adrian Leopard 13-06-21

Photo Joachim Pressl

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