In this post, we investigate the aircraft Smart Stand. In addition to showing how it addresses airports’ and airlines’ current challenges, we also include a cost/benefit comparison between expanding infrastructure and investing in smart stand technology to increase stand utilisation rates.

Build Back Better: #rebootaviation

During the early days of the COVID crisis, several innovative companies joined forces under the #rebootaviation brand. The objective is to work together and help the aviation industry bounce back from the worst crisis it has ever experienced and to return as a stronger and healthier industry. As a recent McKinsey study has shown, companies that invest in innovation throughout crises become significantly more valuable in the long term. As the crisis has developed, this mindset has thankfully become more prominent throughout the aviation industry.

On November 17th 2020, ACI Europe published a press release on what they termed the “Complete Airport Business Model Reset”. The Reset comprises three pillars: Build back better (sustainability), Deliver it better (hyper efficient and connected airport), and Expand the pie (new revenue generation). This new business model reset increases the relevance of smart aircraft stands which in turn address ACI’s objectives.

Aviation’s Challenges

Airline and airport business models involve a very high share of fixed costs. For the airline, it is mostly the ownership of aircraft that provides a high fixed cost; while for the airports it is the ownership and maintenance of infrastructure. Amidst the current crisis, with heavily reduced traffic, revenues fall significantly while costs do not. As traffic starts to recover, in order for aviation to return to profitability as soon as possible, it will need to be more efficient and better able to handle more volume at a lower cost base than pre-pandemic. This is especially true since many airports and airlines have incurred high costs to restructure their workforces and increased their debts. Re-hiring staff while no structural change has been made to the way airlines and airports operate, would be very inefficient.

Indeed, airports need to be able to process higher passenger- and flight numbers with compact infrastructure (“sweat the assets”). Post-COVID, airports will have to turn to smart solutions that increase asset utilisation rates, limit capital investments and thus make the airport more profitable. Technology has already proven to be a much more scalable solution in many other industries. It is now time for airports to change from infrastructure providers to infrastructure and technology/data providers.

Going into 2020, airport capacity, safety and sustainability were the main concerns in aviation. It is good to see that aviation has recently been reaffirming its ambitions to contribute towards a carbon neutral industry by 2050. Some governments have even included sustainability goals as a precondition for airport and airline support packages. Although it may be too early to tell, trends indicate that the industry’s ambitions with regards to sustainability have not disappeared.

The question is, however, how will airports and airlines achieve climate goals with less financial means at their disposal? This challenge will most likely force industry players to look in more detail into the reduction of inefficiencies. For instance: reducing aircraft queuing on taxiways or in the air decreases fuel costs and unnecessary CO2 emissions.

Passenger traffic enjoyed significant growth in the years leading up to 2020, but this growth has also massively increased the pressure on the aviation industry. There is less physical space available for more operations, and time pressure continues to increase. Furthermore, due to increases in airport size and complexity, adequate oversight and control have become almost impossible.

As a result, incidents occur frequently in aviation, and when they do, the results are very costly. Ground handling has even been listed as the most dangerous profession in the world. Often, incidents occur because stakeholders operating at airports do not have full visibility over the current or future situation. Incidents like wingtip clippings are one example of operators not having access to or sharing sufficient accurate information.

As the current crisis has forced airports and airlines to restructure their workforce, safety concerns are increasing. With more focus on cost, the likelihood of taking on inexperienced labour (often with high turnover rates) is increasing. The challenge for airports and airlines is to improve safety levels, while managing the impact on operating cost. For that, sensor technologies, early warning systems and automation provide interesting solutions to solve this challenge.