Aerospace Highlights: Trends & developments in 2023

The aerospace industry is one that constantly pushes the boundaries of technology, innovation, and exploration. As we continue through 2023, we have been witnessing several trends and developments across the sector.  

The Covid-19 pandemic may feel like a distant memory, but the effects are still tangible, especially with supply chain challenges. Luckily, passenger traffic continues to rise and global air travel is steadily increasing, putting the industry in good stead for the summer, and the rest of 2023.

The re-opening of China is one of the most significant recent developments, but what does this mean for the sector?

Reopening of China

After much anticipation, China has lifted its travel restrictions and Chinese tourists are free to travel after three years of limitations. A McKinsey report states that prior to the pandemic, Mainland China had the largest outbound travel market in the world, both in number of trips and total spend, so its resumption is very significant. The removal of quarantine requirements in January 2023 has made domestic travel and trips abroad, including business travel, much more inviting. However, as restrictions began to ease, Covid-19 infections increased which has led to a knock in travel confidence. McKinsey also reports that, currently, the top three overseas destinations for Chinese tourists are Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Outside of Asia, a few commercial carriers have been steadily announcing plans to restore pre-pandemic capacity. An example of this is Air France-KLM – they have increased flights from both Amsterdam and Paris to Beijing and Shanghai. These two Chinese cities are the prime destinations for commercial airlines returning to travel into China.

Aside from travel recovery, China has been investing in its state-backed aircraft manufacturing industry and is likely to become an ever-greater player in the market. However, the restrictions and impact of Covid-19 over the last three years have somewhat slowed this trajectory so far.

Increase in air travel

The increase in air travel isn’t limited to China. Reports have shown significant growth in total passenger traffic in Q1, rising by 52.4% in comparison to last year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Looking back at IATA figures during the pandemic, overall air travel has resumed to 88% of March 2019 levels.

Meanwhile, looking at just international air travel, this has grown by an impressive 68.9% compared with March 2022, according to IATA, led by carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.

We do need to be mindful that aircraft recovery in Europe this year seems to have plateaued at around 12% shy of pre-pandemic levels. Could Europe be hitting a ceiling in recovery?  We’ll have to wait and see.

Improved rate of deliveries

Deliveries have had a promising and stable first quarter. Aircraft manufacturers delivered 257 aircraft in Q1, according to ADS Group, representing the highest Q1 volume of deliveries since 2019.

In terms of orders, whilst the overall order book decreased compared with Q1 2022, orders for wide-body aircraft increased by an astonishing 95%, according to ADS figures, buoyed by a returning confidence in international travel markets.

Supply chain pressures and labour shortages

The pandemic continued to take its toll on the industry this year, with the combination of a strained supply chain and labour shortages jeopardising overall productivity. The summer of 2022 had been a shock to many, drawing attention to a plethora of issues - airlines simply could not keep up with the demand for flights.

The risks faced by the aerospace industry as it struggles to meet demand and sustain growth, include:

  • Supply chain issues, including a shortfall in personnel for production jobs to assemble the parts needed to meet market demand.
  • A lack of raw materials. This is making it difficult for part manufacturers to scale up production, resulting in aircraft parts often being unavailable, awaiting production or delayed because of delivery issues.
  • The shortage of key staff including pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, as well as aircraft workers, engineers and scientists, who are critical for innovation and making technological advances to keep the industry ahead of the curve and running smoothly and safely.

The Chinese aviation sector, amongst others, is particularly struggling with a cabin crew shortage. In the last four years, flight attendant numbers have fallen 11% to less than 100,000 - a reality that industry analysts did not expect to see in their market predictions. The industry must work hard to plug the gaps ahead of a highly anticipated summer of travel.

Finally, some new cabin architecture!

After decades of designing LOPAS (Layout of Passenger Accommodations) around straight parallel corridors, cabin designers are having a great time with new cabin geometries at both ends of the market.

Starting from very small, Lilium’s cabin was revealed to the public at EBACE 2023 with an emphasis on light, both natural and artificial. Large windows are complemented by multicolored lights to allow for rapid customer configuration. The experience is closer to a business jet moving away from the utility image of most helicopters.

At the larger end of the spectrum, JetZero is reviving the concept of blended wing body aircraft as a great response to the environmental challenge. Such a wide cabin requires different cabin solutions and design. For example, middle seats are now triple middle. You can have a middle seat in the middle aisle of the middle section. Alternatively, designers could offer aisle access to every passenger leveraging the new volumes available to them.

Overall, so far 2023 has put the industry in a promising position for the remainder of the year. At STG, we look forward to the opportunities that the remainder of this year will bring, beginning with the imminent AIX trade show, which we are very excited to be attending.

If you are attending AIX next week, please come and see our emergency exit and cabin lighting solutions on stand A517!

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