The State of Air Travel in 2020

The last decade saw an increase in the democratization of travel, with the rise of travel blogs and low-cost airlines dispelling the myth that air travel was a luxury for the few. According to International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac, in 2000 the average citizen flew once every 43 months. In less than 2 decades, that figure jumped up to once every 22 months in 2017. The popularity of air travel is on an upward trend that seems likely to grow year-on-year in the coming decade. As 2020 begins in earnest, here’s a look at the state of aviation in the New Year.

The Return of the Boeing 737MAX

2019 saw one of Boeing’s toughest years, with two high-profile crashes in both Indonesia and Ethiopia and a widespread grounding of the 737MAX. Industry experts have speculated on what this could mean for the company going forward, with competitors like Airbus eager to snap up the market. While concerns about the safety of the 737MAX and associated systems are certainly not unfounded, Boeing is working hard on rehabilitating its image. We could soon see the return of the 737MAX according to Aviation JobNet, as Alaska Airlines expects one to be delivered and in service by April 2020. Whether or not other airlines will follow on its heels so quickly, however, remains to be seen.

Single-Pilot Cockpits

Technology has been an integral part of aviation since the first flight by the Wright brothers in 1903. Airplanes are, after all, highly complex machines, and require thousands of hours of experience to be flown. As the aviation industry prepares itself for a pilot shortage in the next few years, airlines are already looking for solutions. One of these solutions is the emergence of single-pilot planes, with Airbus leading the pack on research and development. By embedding more artificial intelligence (AI) technology into the cockpit, manufacturers hope to address the shortage and lessen the burden on pilots. 

Space Tourism

In 2020, saying “the sky’s the limit” might actually be setting your expectations a little low. For years, space tourism has been the stuff of sci-fi, with the technology, training, and costs far too exorbitant for civilians to even consider. But with Virgin Galactic continuing its work on its fleet of SpaceShipTwo vehicles, it looks like that dream is moving closer and closer to reality. The company expects to have a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes by 2023, with expectations of generating positive earnings by 2021. There’s already a waiting list of more than 600 people for the inaugural flight, which might happen sooner rather than later. 

Flight Shaming

Concerns about the climate crisis have risen to the forefront of public discourse in recent years, and at the head of the call is Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg. The teenage campaigner has urged travelers to eschew air travel when possible, popularizing the Swedish concept of “flygskam” or “flight shame” across Europe. And it seems to be working: MarketWatch reports that the number of people flying between German cities dropped 12% in 2019, while the Deutsche Bahn AG railway service reported record high passenger numbers.

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