It’s so obvious that it may not even need stating: the past few years have not been easy for the aviation industry. The coronavirus pandemic was a historic crisis that was deeper and longer lasting than anything we’ve faced before.
As if that weren’t enough, once the pandemic’s worst effects on the industry began to wane, we had to contend with a global supply chain crisis, a war in Europe and the prospect of a looming global recession.
Despite all of this, there is a growing sense of optimism within the industry and, as we’ve reported here on the Knowledge Hub before, plenty of exciting opportunities ahead.
READ ALSO: Top 10 opportunities for the aviation industry
The sense of optimism was palpable at last month’s MRO Europe conference in London. Organised by Aviation Week Network, the conference is the premiere event for Europe’s maintenance, repair and overhaul industry and draws MRO experts, airline executives and industry analysts from around the world.
Throughout the three-day conference, the Knowledge Hub conducted more than 15 interviews, the results of which we will be sharing in the coming weeks and months. The majority of those we spoke with made it clear that, despite the aforementioned headwinds, the skies ahead are looking clearer than they have in quite some time.
‘Never waste a good crisis’
One of those expressing optimism was Satair CEO Bart Reijnen, who feels certain that the industry will return to pre-COVID levels already by 2023.
As for the company he is managing, Reijnen said that Satair made a number of investments during the downturn that he expects will benefit its customers in the years to come.
For instance, Satair established a “one-stop shop” for aircraft Ground Support Equipment and Tools that offers 70,000 part numbers from 1,600 original equipment manufacturers.
The expanded tools offering covers the needs of all aircraft platforms from Entry Into Service (EIS) to their end-of-life cycle. End-of-life services were also boosted by Satair’s acquisition of the leading logistics and aftermarket services provider VAS Aero Services.
Satair also responded to customer demand by launching the Satair Marketplace, allowing customers to get everything they need – from Airbus Proprietary Parts and other OEM parts to used serviceable materials and standard hardware – within one portal.
Reijnen said Satair’s customers will benefit from these investments and the company's significant increase in inventory and personnel as the industry transitions to the post-pandemic era.
“Based on all the investments we have done during the pandemic, in the sense of never wasting a good crisis, I think we have the means to make a step change in our customer satisfaction,” he said.
Taking a wider view, Reijnen said he expects an industry-wide return to 2019 revenues by next year, as predicted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). There was, however, a caveat.
“I'm very confident next year we will be able to further recover and get back to pre-COVID revenue levels,” he said. “This will all depend on whether we will see the growth in APAC and China picking up as we expect. It remains a versatile environment. But my confidence level is high.”
China’s so-called ‘zero COVID’ strategy, with rolling lockdowns and strict travel restrictions, has meant that the aviation industry in the Asia-Pacific region has been much slower to recover than the rest of the world. According to IATA, Asian airlines accounted for roughly one-third of the industry’s total losses between 2020 and 2022.
International passenger demand in the region was at just 41.5% of 2019 levels, while North America was at 89% and other regions were between 73 and 83%.
The expectation by Reijnen and others that the recovery in Asia will soon catch up with the rest of the world received a boost in mid-November when China announced plans to ease its COVID policies, including shortening required quarantine periods and loosening test requirements for inbound travellers.