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Trends Shaping Regional Aviation

Trends Shaping Regional Aviation

Aerospace and Defense | Feb, 2023

Regional aviation is critical to the global aviation industry. Engines of socio-economic development, regional aviation plays a significant role for stimulating tourism and employment, as well as facilitating access to essential services. Our increasingly connected world relies on the regional connectivity. According to a prediction by International Air Transport Association, the air travel numbers could become twice by 2038. Increasing urbanization, rising purchasing parity of population in Tier-II and Tier-III cities, and growing necessity and aspiration of people for air travel from smaller towns to major cities within the country are expected to spur demand for regional air travel.

Sustainability Aviation on the Horizon

Air travel is a significant carbon emitter since it takes a lot of energy to get people into the air. The global aviation industry accounts for nearly 2.1% of all human-induced carbon emissions. The share of aviation industry is likely to triple by 2050. Under Fly Net Zero plan.1, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Regional flights are being seen as a testing ground for sustainable technology. In July 2022, Dovetail Electric Aviation and Regional Express (Rex) announced a strategic collaboration for building turbine powered aircraft, initially for regional and general aviation aircraft. Since regional airlines operate short sectors, they would be the early adopters of electric battery propulsion. The electric aviation industry would result in significantly low operating costs and stimulate regional aviation services between communities that are not currently being served.

Stockholm-based Braathens is becoming a leader in ensuring sustainability in regional aviation using 100% sustainable aviation fuel in both engines. Thanks to the mandates and incentives from the Swedish government such as “Fossil Free Sweden”, Braathens is moving away from fossil fuels. The Swedish government has set targets to make domestic flights fossil-free by 2030. The state-owned airport operator Swedavia that runs 10 airports in the country have started charging airlines on the basis of CO2 emissions.

Regional airports are also increasingly focusing on generating energy through renewable sources and improving energy management solutions to limit air pollution. The emergence of alternative sources of energy such as green hydrogen and electricity, etc. Airports would need to adapt the necessary infrastructure to provide new fuels to airlines. Airports with a clear sustainability strategy are expected to be in a better position to grow without comprising future generations.

Rise of Smart Airports

Innovation is a key driver for the aviation sector where technologies are consistently deployed and researched to continuously improve performance and operational capabilities. Smart airports can completely exploit the capabilities of mature as well as emerging technologies. These airports use connected technologies such as Internet of Things devices, GPS, and sensors to perform various tasks such as planning, optimizing passenger flows, supporting the activities of airport staff, automating immigration processes, etc.

Smart airport applications such as facial recognition, health monitoring systems, automated luggage scanning and weighing, among others are rapidly becoming mainstream. In future, airports are anticipated to use the capabilities of advanced technologies such as behavioral analytics, gamification, mobile apps, sensors, etc., which would streamline operations and make the check-in procedure convenient for passengers and airport staff.

At London Heathrow airport, the British Airways has employed a robot dog called Dave to enhance safety and efficiency of the airport’s major construction projects. The robot dog allows the project team to reduce trips, slips, and accidents in a hazardous or slippery locations.

Changi airport in Singapore is integrated with technologies such as sensors, data analytics, and artificial intelligence to improve the customer experience and improve productivity. From fast-track check-in to retail, the airport provides latest technological solutions to passengers that helps save them minutes off of the airport journey. Terminal 5 under construction will include solar panels and thermal energy storage to minimize carbon footprint. The terminal will also include advanced technologies such as smart building management systems that leverage robotics and artificial intelligence for enhanced transportation and baggage handling.

Modernization of Regional Aircrafts

Experiencing a lavish experience in the business class service from a small regional airport to a final international destination is not a dream anymore. Earlier due to less demands, aircraft manufacturers put regional jet design on the back burner, but now they are focusing towards delivering legacy products to the regional segment as well. New regional airlines now have upgraded aircraft interiors and dual-class configurations in both regional jets and turboprops. According to a prediction by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, over the next two decades, the world would need 5100 regional jets, owing to rapidly increasing demand for connectivity and retirement of existing regional aircrafts.

In regional aircrafts, the focus remains on cost discounting more than revenue generation. The airlines would require delivering enhanced business performance to justify the investment in refreshing regional jet fleet. This could translate to enhanced aircraft performance, reduced operating costs, improved customer experience, and increase revenue. Gradually, the focus is shifting towards generating revenue in regional aircrafts towards premium services, delivering better customer experience while controlling costs.

In April 2022, Mitsubishi SpaceJet aircraft unveiled a new next-generation regional jet that has a potential to bring a paradigm shift for the regional aviation market. The aircraft has the widest and tallest cabin compared to any regional aircraft in the market. Besides providing the most spacious economy class seat with no dreaded middle seats, the aircraft offers tall cabin height of astonishing six feet and eight inches. The room for one standard-sized roller back per person would cut the stress of missed connection due to slow gate-check at the destination. This would also save airlines time and money in their transitions between flights and ensures that passengers do not have to check their luggage at the gate.

Now that fuel prices are volatile, cost-efficiency would become even more crucial for regional jets. Hence, emergence of more fuel-efficient jets could help airlines cut costs and support the growth of regional aviation industry.  United Airlines, the third-biggest US air carrier has a contract to buy electric 30-seat planes from Heart Aerospace, which would be introduced in 2028. Replacing big jets with new planes on regional service would cut down greenhouse gas emissions and provide a push to electric planes. Delta Airlines have also announced to replace 10% of fuel with SAF by 2030 to cut down carbon emissions by 45% and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Rapid Adoption of Advanced Technologies to Streamline Operations

Travelers expect a completely personalized experience, right from booking tickets to reaching their final destination. In order to enhance customer service experience, regional aviation sector is leveraging AI tools and technologies for personalizing, optimizing, and up scaling the digital interactions between airlines and passengers. The social sentiment analysis through AI and ML is helping the airline industry to curate services as per the needs of passengers, which is maximizing customer satisfaction. Besides, big data is enabling the aviation industry to make decisions based on the facts. As data is gaining the reputation as the most valuable assets, using big data and data mining techniques can help develop robust plan that has high probability of succeeding. Moreover, further advancements in technology can make pilotless planes soon a reality. Integrating hybrid RPA with cognition of AI can make it possible for aircrafts to complete journey without human intervention.   

According to TechSci Research report, “Aircraft Engine Market- Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Competition, Opportunity and Forecast, 2017-2035 Segmented By Engine Type (Turbofan, Piston, Turboprop, Turboshaft), By Aircraft Type (Narrow Body, Rotocrafts, Business Aircrafts, Fighter Aircrafts, Wide Body Aircrafts, Regional Aircrafts), By Platform (Fixed Wing and Rotary Wing), By Application (Commercial, Military), By Region”, the aircraft engine market is anticipated to reach USD195.62 billion by 2035. The market growth can be attributed to an increase in technological development and upsurge in demand for domestic and international tourism.

According to another TechSci research report on “Aircraft Seating Market – Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Opportunity, and Forecast, 2018-2030F, Segmented By Aircraft Type (Narrow Body Aircrafts, Rotorcraft, Business Aircrafts, Regional Aircrafts, Wide Body Aircrafts, Fighter Aircrafts), By Class (Economy Class, Premium Economy Class, Business Class, First-Class), By Crew Seats (Passenger Seats, Cabin Crew Seats, Pilot/Co-Pilot Seats), By Seat Type (21G, 16G, 9G), By End Use (OEM, Aftermarket), By Region”, the global aircraft seating market is projected to grow significantly during the forecast period. The market growth can be attributed to the growing need for lighter aircraft passenger seats and increasing investments by aircraft manufacturers into the aircraft seatings. 

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