WORLD ROUTES: Route Development – Dawn of a New Era or Triumph of Continuity?

The last ten years have seen whole industries being revolutionised by technology and globalisation. Will the same happen to route development, or will growing passenger numbers ensure continuity? That was the central question of a Round Table discussion between Prof John D Kasarda, a leading thinker on the aviation industry and author of “Aerotropolis: The way we’ll live next”, and Dave Stroud, managing director of leading route development consultancy ASM, at World Routes in Las Vegas.

What became clear during the discussion was that the forces of change are currently much stronger than the forces of continuity. Financial risk sharing has always been hotly debated, but what’s new according to Stroud is that airlines demand an almost immediate return on their investments in new routes. This, says ASM’s managing director, forces airports and tourism authorities to share much more of the risk than before. It also changes the very nature of route development: “In the future, not the best forecasters but the best deliverers of traffic will be king,” he said.

Delivering traffic is also at the heart of the airport city, or aerotropolis. “Routes act like a 21st century physical high speed Internet. After all, the web hasn’t moved a single box,” said Prof Kasarda. “The net age does not replace the jet age; the two reinforce each other” as businesses and personal relationships are becoming ever more global.

Both speakers agreed that it is increasingly important to bring stakeholders together as destinations to capitalise on the immense opportunities that the doubling of air traffic offers. “More and more stakeholders get it”, summarised Stroud.

They fear that the market may not be kind to airports and cities which do not adapt to the brave new world route development. “Dubai, China and other emerging markets are racing ahead”, said Prof Kasarda, adding that there are also very successful aerotropolises in the West such as Amsterdam, “where the airport has spurred the development a new city in its own right” where corporate headquarters, logistics businesses and many other high value adding activities cluster.

The third force of change is social media and big data which allows –or rather compels– airports to become consumer marketers. With over a billion people on Facebook alone and travel being one of the most popular topics on the social web, airports and destinations should seek the conversation with the travelling public, recommends Stroud.

Looking ahead, the two speakers see clear advantages for early adopters: “Everything happens faster now”, the speakers agreed. Say hello to the brave new world of route development, which is full of opportunities but where everything happens at the speed of the digital age.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…