Airline Ecosystem Faces Major Changes, Challenges

How the airline industry emerges from the crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is unclear, but don’t expect the ecosystem to be the same. 

“The whole risk within the industry must be rebalanced,” said Maciej Wilk, LOT Polish Airlines COO, during a panel discussion during Aviation Week Network’s virtual MRO TransAtlantic taking place Oct. 27-29.  “Airlines are begging their states for support and this money will not only be used to help airlines survive but to deliver revenue to the whole value chain,” he said. “It can’t be like this in the future.”

Abdol Moabery, president and CEO of GA Telesis, agrees and thinks there will be “a radical shift” in the aviation ecosystem that involves an integrated model where airlines transfer more risk to service providers or manufacturers. 

Valerie Manning, Airbus senior VP customer support, pointed out that the OEM’s airframe production and deliveries were quickly disrupted, but “there was also a brutal shift in priorities from the airlines” on the aftermarket side that caused Airbus to have to pivot quickly—including help with aircraft parking and storage. That was followed by Airbus finding ways to provide airlines with maintenance deviations and “clock stoppages” for calendar-time maintenance requirements to cut costs, in addition to training mechanics virtually. “We had to focus on continued airworthiness in a new environment,” as well as securing the supply chain to measure and mitigate risk, says Manning.

“Now we’re thinking: what’s permanent? When is traffic coming back? Are we going to keep some of these deviations” that are deemed temporary as the industry looks toward a recovery, she says. What will basic assumptions look like going forward so the whole ecosystem can plan accordingly? “Sizing the business is going to be tough for all of us,” she predicts.

While precisely planning aviation’s recovery is nearly impossible, Robert Korn, president and co-founder of leasing company Carlyle Aviation, predicts there will be more clarity within 12 months and thinks the aftermarket will return fairly rapidly after airlines burn off the green time from aircraft and engines.

Lee Ann Shay

As chief editor MRO, Lee Ann Shay directs Aviation Week's coverage of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), including Inside MRO.