October 12, 2017


by Rowena Evans. 

At Basic Six, we’re passionate about the history of aviation… but we’re also fascinated by what the future holds. That‘s why we checked out London’s 2017 Aviation Festival, which brought together some of the most powerful people in the airline and travel tech industries.

Aviation Festival London 2017 main hall

“Digital or Die”, “Long Haul/Low Cost” and “Connectivity on Board” were key themes debated during last month’s three-day event, which saw CEOs from some of the world’s top carriers share their predictions.

Sir Tim Clarke - Emirates presidentOne of the keynote speakers was Emirates president Sir Tim Clarke, who talked candidly about his company’s major investment in digital innovation, from overhauling the huge back-of-house operation to streamlining the customer-facing side. He explained how the Middle Eastern carrier is also working to personalise travellers’ journeys: crew now use Ipads, for example, loaded with frequent flyers’ preferences to help tailor every flight. Emirates engineers, meanwhile, are tackling the remaining logistical challenges which would allow wifi access onboard. Airlines who don’t keep pace with the digital revolution would “perish”, Clarke warned.

As for the new model of long-haul, low-cost flights, offered by the likes of Norwegian and Air Asia, the British aviation boss said there “was a place definitely there” for this kind of service, and that he’d been “banging on the table” to draw attention to this new challenge.


Over at Qantas, the world’s longest continuously operating airline, International CEO Gareth Evans also stressed the importance of the personalisation of passenger journeys. His carrier seeks to engage with clients even before they have made a reservation, providing travel inspiration to secure their custom, and even offering to book them an Uber, via the Qantas app, when they step off the plane.

Australians who belong to qantas frequent flyer scheme

With Qantas running the world’s most penetrative loyalty programme in terms of percentage of population (11.5 million of the 24.5 million Australians belong to their frequent flyer scheme) Evans also said the airline was using its brand reputation to earn revenue on the ground, offering everything from insurance to currency transfers. Asked about new routes, he confirmed Qantas will be operating the first direct service ever between Europe and Australia next spring, using a Dreamliner 787-9 to link London to Perth in around 17 hours.

Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

More trend insights came from Gilles Bloch-Morhange at SITA, the multinational corporation which provides technology for most of the world’s airlines and airports. SITA’s latest report shows nearly 90 per cent of passengers now book their flight online or via an app and over half check-in online or at a self-service kiosk.

Looking ahead, the report reveals that nearly 60 per cent of passengers would be open to using a single biometric token to travel, instead of showing their boarding pass and passport. And with airlines and airports already testing facial recognition at bag drop and boarding, this, it seems, might be closer than we think.
Bloch-Morhange also shared a video of a SITA trial at Geneva airport with a self-propelling baggage robot known as Leo. Stationed outside terminal buildings, Leo allows passengers to drop off their bags once they’ve used his control panel to scan their boarding passes and print a tag. He then delivers them to the airline in question, leaving travellers to head straight to the boarding gate.

Leo’s currently on tour around some of the world’s major airports, providing a glimpse of the role robotics may play in our journeys in the not too distant future.

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