The Chairman of Avia Solutions Group Gediminas Ziemelis shares his views on the ten big challenges for passenger aviation sustainability for the next three years.
Ensuring sustainable operations has become a primary driver for aviation businesses in recent years. Nonetheless, this dynamic industry faces a multitude of challenges that can impede companies’ efforts to enhance profitability. While several factors contribute to the aviation industry’s struggles, certain key issues merit highlighting as primary culprits.
High market $ interest rates for heavily leveraged and drowning-in-debt airlines will be even higher
In recent years, the aviation industry has experienced a significant drop in demand for air travel, resulting in many airlines facing financial losses. To stay afloat during this time, airlines have taken on additional debt. However, this increased debt has resulted in higher risk for lenders, leading to higher market interest rates for the airlines.
In addition to the impact of the pandemic on the industry, other factors such as rising fuel costs and increased competition have also contributed to the financial struggles of many airlines. These factors have made it increasingly challenging for heavily leveraged airlines to generate profits and pay off their debt, leading to concerns about the sustainability of their business models.
The combination of these factors has led to a situation where heavily indebted airlines are now facing even higher market interest rates, which can exacerbate their financial difficulties.
Much higher insurance costs — worsening war risks could push insurance premiums higher
The aviation industry is grappling with rising insurance costs due to worsening geopolitical risks. This is highly influenced by the fact that, as stated by leading insurance companies, around 500 aircraft leased to Russian operators remain trapped in Russia. Insurers are facing potential liability issues due to the uncertain situation created by the Russian government’s refusal to release the aircraft.
As a result, insurers are struggling to assess the level of risk involved, leading to a wide range of potential losses estimated to be up to $30 billion, according to industry sources. This uncertainty is likely to drive up insurance premiums for airlines, impacting the industry as a whole.
Passengers will remember compensations for flight delays, and it will impact airlines’ unplanned costs
The EU regulation 261/2004 provides compensation for passengers who experience delays, cancellations, overbooking, or denied boarding. Depending on the specific circumstances and subject to certain conditions, affected passengers may be eligible for a compensation claim ranging from €250 to €600 per person. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of flight delays in the EU that fell under compensation was 1.5% of all flights, with an average compensation amount of €375 per delayed flight.
In 2019, EU airlines carried a total of 1.12 billion passengers, with 1.7 million flights experiencing delays and resulting in a total compensation pay-out of €6.3 billion. Only 10% of affected passengers currently file complaints directly with the airlines or via specialised service companies, such as Skycop or Airhelp.
However, this number is expected to increase significantly, as after COVID-19 the industry faces capacity shortages and other challenges. As a result, the number of claimable flights that experience delays could increase from 1.5% to 5%, potentially leading to a total compensation pay-out of €20 billion.
LEAP engines challenges will impact more aircraft on the ground and shortage of capacity;
According to our internal research, presently, the aviation industry operates a fleet of 1397 A320neo aircraft with LEAP-1A engines, totalling 3080 engines with an average of 2.2 engines per aircraft, and 1043 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with LEAP-1B engines, totalling 2338 engines with an average of 2.2 engines per aircraft. To maintain these engines, there are 21 locations globally for LEAP-1A overhaul and maintenance and 22 locations for LEAP-1B engines.
However, the grounding of 16,000 aircraft (equivalent to 60% of the total fleet) in 2020-2021 has led to a staggering 60% postponement of LEAP engine maintenance. Consequently, there is now a significant maintenance gap across 43 locations, resulting in wait times of 9-10 months for engine maintenance, which could potentially disrupt airline operations.
OEM production and supply chain disrupted during 2023-2025 will cause a shortage of aircraft capacity;
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the aerospace industry. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such as Boeing and Airbus have experienced significant disruptions in their production and supply chains. In response to the global economic slowdown and reduced demand for air travel, OEMs have cut their production levels by around half compared to pre-COVID levels. However, this has led to a shortage of aircraft capacity, which is hindering the industry’s recovery efforts.
The production cuts have affected over 5,000 suppliers in the supply chain, all of whom have had to reduce their volumes during the pandemic. Consequently, the recovery of the aerospace industry is projected to take 2.5-4 years to return to pre-COVID production levels. This prolonged period of disruption is likely to have significant consequences for the industry and its stakeholders.
In 2020-2021, the cancellation of pilot cadet programmes and planned retirements caused a pilot shortage in 2023-2024 and a rapid increase in costs for airlines;
The aviation industry faces a constant demand for new pilots, as approximately 3% of pilots retire annually. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major setback in the industry, with all cadet programs being either postponed or cancelled.
Hence, there is now a significant pilot shortage issue, leading to rapid cost increases. It is estimated that industry will experience a shortage of 300,000 pilots within a decade. This shortage is expected to create significant challenges, particularly in India, which is anticipated to have the largest pilot shortage.
Challenges to book MRO slots after COVID-19, because scheduled maintenance events were postponed
Another issue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is a significant accumulation of MRO services for aircraft worldwide. As a result of the unprecedented reduction in air travel and the grounding of many aircraft, scheduled maintenance was delayed or deferred.
Nonetheless, as air travel demand begins to recover and airlines return to full operations, the challenge of booking MRO slots to perform necessary maintenance on these aircraft has emerged. Many airlines are finding that MRO facilities are already operating at full capacity, resulting in long wait times and potential disruptions to airline operations. This accumulation of maintenance is expected to persist for some time, creating obstacles to the aviation industry’s recovery efforts.
Challenge to find engines maintenance slots for V2500, and RR engines due to deferred maintenance
Airlines that operate aircraft with V2500 and RR engines are also encountering difficulties in scheduling maintenance for their engines due to high demand and limited availability. This has created a challenging situation, particularly for airlines with large fleets of such aircraft.
The lack of available maintenance slots has forced airlines to ground some of their aircraft, leading to operational disruptions and revenue losses. In addition to the financial impact, the situation also poses safety concerns as delayed maintenance can compromise the safety and reliability of the engines, potentially leading to more significant problems in the future.
ESG requirements for greener aviation didn’t disappear in the medium term
The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) 41st Assembly, held in Montreal in October 2022, marked a significant milestone for the aviation industry’s commitment to sustainability. The assembly committed to a Long Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, which has brought Environment, Society, and Governance (ESG) issues to the forefront of the sustainable aviation conversation.
The LTAG’s ambitious target is challenging, but it has the potential to encourage airlines to accelerate the development and adoption of greener jet fuels and other technical improvements to decarbonise flying. This will require a significant shift in industry-wide mindset, investment in research and development, and collaboration between airlines, manufacturers, and governments to achieve the long-term goal.
After COVID-19, debts for spare parts, MRO services, and aircraft leasing will impact that some aircraft will still be grounded, which will cause capacity demand
The challenging situation in the industry has pushed airlines to take on additional debt to finance various aspects of their operations, such as spare parts, MRO services, and aircraft leasing. However, the increase in outstanding debt for the industry could have significant implications, with some airlines potentially struggling to pay off their debts, which could result in a reduction in capacity as airlines are forced to ground some of their aircraft or cut routes to minimise costs.
Insider data shows that the industry’s outstanding debt has jumped over 20% since 2020, reaching more than $300 billion. To raise capital, global air carriers have sold $63 billion in bonds and loans so far this year.