Innovating our way back into the air

I see lots of reasons to be confident that the air transportation industry can rise from this pandemic in part on the strength of business and technical innovations. There’s too strong a research and development community around the world for this not to be true. Look, for instance, at the creativity and moxie of the NASA engineers who devised a prototype ventilator in 35 days for rapid, low-cost manufacturing. That’s the kind of achievement that can be made when innovation is embraced and unleashed.

Based on where we are now in the pandemic, it must be tempting for executives to look at TV clips of people shoulder to shoulder at bars in some U.S. cities and wonder if maybe customers won’t in fact mind returning to packed aircraft and soon. Maybe surviving is just a matter of hunkering down with some government aid and dwindling rainy day funds.

These TV clips are deceiving, because they are anecdotes rather than data. Polls show that most consumers remain wary of the threat posed by the virus and will be for some time.

Forty percent of air travelers surveyed in April by the International Air Transport Association said they plan to wait “six months or more” after the pandemic subsides before traveling by air.

No one can say for sure when that six-month confidence-building period will begin or what respondents meant by “or more.” We’ve all heard the warnings from epidemiologists about a second wave and many of us have Googled the history of the Spanish flu that started in 1918.

The survivors in the transport industry will be those who adapt rather than simply attempt to wait out the pandemic. They will achieve a critical mass of confident travelers sooner.

I don’t know what the innovations will be, but they will make all the difference.

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About Ben Iannotta

Ben keeps the magazine and its news coverage on the cutting edge of journalism. He began working for the magazine in the 1990s as a freelance contributor and became editor-in-chief in 2013. He was editor of C4ISR Journal and has written for Air & Space Smithsonian, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Reuters and Space News.

Innovating our way back into the air