Skift Take

During this year’s Skift Aviation Forum, we asked more than 500 CEOs and senior airline executives about crucial topics facing the industry, ranging from artificial intelligence to startups. Their responses offer insights into the future of travel.

The airline industry is continuing its rapid, post-peak pandemic transformation period. At the same time, executives across the globe are grappling with topics like the reemergence of global business travel, the industry’s impact on climate change, and how to implement new technologies.

We asked our Skift Aviation Forum audience of nearly 500 CEOs and senior executives to weigh in on this dynamically shifting environment and tell us how they view some of the industry’s pressing questions. Here’s a look at four key insights we gleaned from the survey.

Global Corporate Travel Will Make a Full Comeback, But It Will Take Time

Global business travel still lags behind 2019 levels, and as we move further away from the thick of the pandemic, airline execs are taking stock of where the industry sits and what the future could hold. It’s estimated that businesses will spend $933 million on business travel in 2022, compared to the $1.4 trillion spent in 2019, according to the Global Business Travel Association.

But CEOs and other decision makers across the industry believe we’ll eventually return to those pre-pandemic highs. Asked about the global corporate travel recovery, 75 percent of respondents said it will return to pre-Covid levels. A quarter of respondents believe it will return very soon. Even more encouraging, nobody thinks those days are gone for good.

Airline Execs Aren’t Particularly Optimistic About Hitting Climate Goals

Responsible for 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, the airline industry has been reckoning with how to become greener. The industry committed to reaching net zero by 2050, a goal that will take a considerable, concerted effort. Airlines are exploring ways to institute sustainable fuel, studying the scalability of electric alternatives, investing in carbon offsets, and researching other new technologies.

Yet even with ongoing efforts, most airline executives don’t see the future through rose-colored glasses. About 63 percent of our respondents said they are not optimistic about the airline industry’s ability to meet long-term climate goals, while 37 percent said they are.

Decision Makers Are Leery of Investing in Startups

Airline startups are popping up with more frequency since the dawn of the pandemic. Covid-19 brought about a perfect storm for the creation of these startups. Layoffs have led to staffing availability, the costs of operating an aircraft have fallen, and bankruptcies and shutdowns have created a market for new players.

But all that activity doesn’t mean current airline executives are investing without due diligence. We asked respondents if they would consider investing in an airline startup, and just 5.9 percent answered with an enthusiastic “yes,” while 29.4 percent said, “No freaking way.” Most are keeping a keen eye on investments — 65 percent of respondents said they would maybe invest in an airline startup, but only if the business model was overwhelmingly attractive.

Airline Execs Believe Personalized Offers and Experiences Are the Way Forward

Businesses of every kind are continuing to invest in artificial intelligence, and the airline industry is certainly no exception. AI in the aviation market is already expected to hit $885 million in 2022, and it could rise all the way to nearly $10 billion by 2030, according to Precedence Research. While decision makers at airlines across the country are investing across business units, there’s one slice of the pie that execs see as particularly ripe for AI.

Asked which uses of AI will have the biggest impact on the industry, 61 percent said delivering more personalized customer offers and experiences. Meanwhile, 23 percent believe AI will be most impactful in total revenue optimization across fare, ancillary, and third-party pricing decisions. Another 16 percent believe AI will be most impactful in enabling better business planning and more accurate forecasts.

People surrounding the airline industry have wide-ranging opinions about the future of flying. But our survey results provide us an interesting look into the minds of the decision makers that will drive the industry forward. While we distance ourselves from the depths of the pandemic, the airline industry’s next trick will be navigating a new and ever-changing travel world.

​​This content was created collaboratively by FLYR and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

Tags: airlines, business travel, flyr, SkiftX Showcase: Aviation

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