The COVID-19 pandemic has not only instigated a profound public health crisis, but it has also instigated a deep global economic crisis as well. And in the face of widespread lockdowns, few industries were hit harder than the airline industry.
Today, however, safe and effective vaccines have emerged, promising therapeutics are being developed, and the world is continuing on its careful path toward reopening.
The airline industry is no exception. After what seemed an interminable period of shutdown, planes are in the air again and airports are filling up once more.
And technology is playing a pivotal role in helping the airline industry rebound.
Cleaning and Disinfection
Given the increasing transmissibility of emerging Covid variants, passengers, crew, and airport employees alike are preeminently focused on reducing the risk of viral exposure.
In response to this, powerful new technologies have emerged both to facilitate the detection of infection in humans and to optimize the cleaning and sanitization of aircraft and airport facilities.
For example, thermal cameras are being installed in airports worldwide to aid in identifying those who may have a fever, indicating a potential coronavirus infection.
These cameras eliminate the need for individual, manual temperature screenings, making the onboarding process easier and more efficient without compromising public safety.
In addition, new, autonomous cleaning and sanitization systems, many of which feature blue light or ultraviolet (UV) light technologies, have emerged to help disinfect aircraft between flights.
These technologies are also deployed in airports to prevent the potential contamination of surfaces or the transmission of airborne particles, particularly in high-traffic areas.
Digitalization and Contactless Services
Not only do the new screening and sanitization technologies serve an important role in preventing the spread of infections in the airline industry, but they also serve a vital role in reassuring the public of the safety of these environments.
This is essential both in helping to lure both industry employees back to work and passengers back to the skies.
However, these are not the only tools now at the industry’s disposal. In fact, the increasing digitalization of the industry is helping to make onboarding and disembarking safer and more efficient.
For example, a growing number of airports are now using contactless kiosks to enable passengers to check in without waiting long periods in massive queues. Not only does this increase efficiency in a time when pent-up demand may well lead to overcrowded terminals, but it also may attract reluctant fliers who are concerned about social distancing.
Similarly, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has recently launched an important new smartphone app, Safe Pass, which is designed to help passengers receive the most accurate and up-to-date information they need before arriving at the airport.
For instance, many governments are now requiring vaccines for all eligible international travelers. This, indeed, is rapidly becoming a preferred mitigation measure, as vaccines have been proven to be highly effective not only in reducing disease transmission but also in reducing the severity of disease for those who experience a breakthrough infection.
The Safe Pass app enables passengers to confirm the documentation needed both to board the aircraft and to disembark without issue at the target destination, including proof of vaccination where it is required.
The Future of the Industry
Technology is not only playing a crucial role in helping the airline industry rebound in the short term, but it also promises to be instrumental in ensuring the industry continues to thrive well into the future.
This includes technological innovations which can help the industry better absorb profound disruptions such as this one.
An important element of this is the ongoing evolution of the field of aerospace engineering. In the wake of the pandemic and the myriad lessons learned, the aerospace engineers both of today and tomorrow will be called upon to deploy skills, meet standards, and serve goals that are likely far different from those that prevailed before the pandemic.
For instance, commercial aircraft designers are likely to find themselves called upon to engineer passenger planes with advanced sanitization and air filtration systems combined with a smaller fuselage to accommodate the increased demand for more compact, less crowded planes.
Similarly, those working in the data analytics sector of aerospace engineering may find themselves working extensively in the arena of public health and infectious disease regarding aircraft design, operation, and maintenance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll both on human lives and on the global economy, and the impact on the airline industry has been especially dire.
Today, however, there is hope on the horizon and life is beginning to return to a post-pandemic normal. For the airline industry, recovery will hinge largely on the development and deployment of state-of-the-art technology that will accommodate the realities of our new post-COVID world, from digitalization to automated sanitization to the downsizing of passenger aircraft.