The airline ecosystem is a fascinating hive of constant activity, change and advancement. As a sector, the aviation industry is very susceptible to influences from the macro environment, and effectively represents a microcosm of the political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legislative trends that shape both developed and emerging economies.
The industry plays a major role in national and international governmental policy-making: the undeniable impact aviation has on our environment, border controls, ‘Open Skies’, changes in the pattern of wealth distribution and GDP growth, all place the business of airlines and airports at the top of the political and economic agenda.
How the industry operates now and in the future is largely determined by social change and technological evolution which we are witnessing on an unprecedented scale. Population growth forecasts will drive route openings, an aging demographic will lead to new levels of service personalisation, and with 85% of the Earth’s population now receiving mobile coverage, global availability of personal mobile technology will change forever the way aviation players interact with and sell to tomorrow’s traveller.
How this is achieved will depend on the strategic direction each ecosystem partner takes to inter-collaborate on common goals. The resulting ‘engagement’ models adopted may be minimal or all-embracing, and will be determined by assessing critical elements of the airport management structure - otherwise known as the Ecosystem Architecture. What is the airport trying to ‘be’ with the resources at its disposal? What facilities are required and how much revenue will they generate? How will customers’ needs and expectations be managed? And critically, what investment must be raised, and how, to achieve these goals? An in-depth analysis of these factors is key to understanding each airport’s potential.
Twenty years from now, the airport environment will be unrecognisable. We will see mini-city airport ‘destinations’ emerge which are completely self-sufficient, along-side ‘bus stations’ offering minimal services. Revenue will increasingly come from non-aeronautical sources, with profits shared amongst the service providers and airlines who drive passenger footfall. But who will ‘own’ the customer relationship? The current climate suggests that passengers do not want any single entity to take control of their data or determine the content, volume and delivery of travel-related information.
Airport players of the future must seek to earn passenger trust and work towards a seamless, coordinated platform of communication, the obvious target channel being the passenger’s mobile device. The integrated management of such vast volumes of customer information will require an advanced technology infrastructure, sophisticated enough to manage multiple applications in real-time and guarantee data security. This in turn paves the way for the emergence of new IT partners within the airport ecosystem. And finally, to the tricky issue of funding: airports might utilise their evolving ‘destination’ status to justify their essential impact on local economies. This could lead to funding in the form of community tax levies. Alternatively, ecosystem players may put up finances in return for an equity share and influence in airport decision-making, leading to a co-ownership of assets and shared strategic and financial goals. One thing is certain - no single model will serve all airport ecosystems, and no single player will have exclusive control over finances, operations and the passenger experience.
“Tomorrow’s airport will be a complex environment with the passenger at its heart, collaboration as its lifeblood and innovation as its currency.”