By Alex Macheras/Aviation Analyst
*UAE airline warns that there will be more airport lounge closures to come
More of the world’s people from both emerging and mature economies are using aviation as part of their lives, each year. Traffic is forecast to double in the next 15 years, and the worldwide fleet of commercial aircraft will more than double over the next 20 years. The next decade of aviation looks set to be the most exciting yet, especially for Asia.
Later this month, Istanbul will open a brand new airport. It will become the main gateway to Turkey, after a 48-hour transition period from the current largest Turkish hub, Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Istanbul says its new airport will be a ‘major hub at the intersection of Asia, Europe, and Middle East’ – an interesting tagline, with special emphasis on Istanbul’s geographical presence in two continents, plus its close proximity the Middle East — home to two of the world’s most dominant airline carriers, Qatar Airways and Emirates.
Istanbul’s new airport will be one of the largest international airports in the world, especially once the final phase is finished, sometime over the next decade. While the new hub will eventually have six runways, and an annual capacity of 200mn, the airport will launch this year with three runways, and immediate capacity for around 90mn passengers. It’ll be home to the largest duty free zone in the world, presenting a new potential for increased shopping revenue.
Despite all external influences of which aviation is vulnerable to (weather, economic downturns, threats to air safety, political spats, etc) the industry as a whole remains incredibly resilient. In the face of Istanbul’s new airport project has been a two-year decline of Turkey’s tourism sector, and a recent sharp fall in the Turkish lira (which has dropped more than 40% against the US dollar this year). But despite this, the new Istanbul airport will open in a matter of weeks… well-positioned to take on a significant share of the next decade of air travel passenger growth.
China, set to be among the world’s biggest aviation markets by 2022, will soon too be home to another Beijing airport, ‘Daxing International’ — also in the running to becoming one of the biggest in the world — that will feature a starfish shaped terminal equipped with 79 ‘tentacle-like’ airbridges. Smilar to Istanbul’s new hub… Daxing will be ready to be used by over 100mn passengers, upon its opening.
While the outlook for the industry is extremely promising as a whole, it doesn’t immune airlines from bad management and poor decision making. If you’re an airline playing for the future, a clear vision, identity, and expansion at a sensible pace — are all essential. This week, passengers in Europe are suffering the impacts of an airline that tried to grow too fast, at an unrealistic pace. Nordic airline ‘Primera Air’ — with bases in major European cities including London, Paris and Copenhagen, collapsed on Tuesday, leaving over 50,000 passengers stranded abroad with nothing more than a ‘We’re sorry and goodbye’ email from the airline… forcing travellers to pay their own way home, and lose the money spent on Primera Air tickets.
On the same day, the struggling UAE flag carrier airline Etihad Airways announced it will completely close down its London Heathrow First & Business Class lounge, a move which has triggered backlash online from premium paying passengers, and one of which demonstrates just how much trouble the airline is in, given London would typically be one of Etihad Airways’ most premium, and stable routes. Etihad have now warned that there will be more airport lounge closures to come, as it attempts to battle its mammoth debt accumulated through poor investments in some of the world’s most failing airline carriers.
As a whole, are the world’s aviation industries driving growth? Absolutely.
But it’s Asia-Pacific regions that are set to lead worldwide passenger traffic by 2037, and the continent is already leading the way in its preparedness for what’s yet to come.
The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter: @AlexInAir
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