Satu Dahl speaks with Peter Evans, CEO and founder of flight sharing marketplace AirPool about this how the innovative new platform can increase regional connectivity.
The aviation market is changing. Peter Evans, CEO and founder of new flight sharing marketplace AirPool says things are certainly not going to be the same going forward. “Industry ‘experts’ have been professing estimations of when the industry will return to pre-Covid levels. What they really talk about is when they believe [hope] the industry will return to how it was. In my opinion, it never will.”
Pre-Covid traffic levels will return; indeed, they will be exceeded as population growth and ongoing globalisation support continuing, compounded growth but it is unlikely to be the same mix of traffic, Evans notes. The industry will also change structurally. “Covid has acted as a prism to focus attention on some of the changes; however, it is not the sole driver. Increasing concern for the environment and technology advances within and without aviation are aligning to influence a seismic shift. Governments are focused on climate change and supporting the development of new, clean flight technologies – which will only be capable of operating in sub-regional and regional markets for at least a decade.”
Business meetings have moved to Zoom, Teams and Google Chat, enabling remote working like never before, and business has appreciated the potential and productivity advantages of working from home. “This too has ushered in what is being heralded as the Zoom Town effect – people not needing or wishing to go their office in their city and spending their week outside London suburbs”, Evans says.
“I believe that a crisis like Covid presents challenges but opportunities too. Successful businesses will be thinking like start-ups, analysing the market as it stands, not as it was, and adapting schedules, networks and customer proposition to face the new order.”
When it comes to the future of aviation, Evans sees several emerging trends. These include greater use of much smaller, fuel-efficient aircraft operating more direct point-to-point services, more focus on value-based fares rather than cost-based fare structures, leisure travel becoming more significant and resilient than business travel and blurring of the distinction between commercial airlines and business aviation. “These changes will, I believe, give rise to a shift in travel behaviour when we can travel again and virtual fatigue truly kicks in.”
AirPool is focusing on regional connectivity through identifying communities currently ill-served by airline service or by time-consuming and stressful surface transport. “The demise of Flybe in March, despite several of its lucrative routes being picked up by Loganair, Eastern and Blue Islands, has still left a lot of the UK without commercial air service. Going forward, with the right-sized aircraft, we believe we can stimulate seat demand whilst offering fares comparable with first-class train fares for the same route and when more sustainable next-gen hybrid and electric aircraft enter commercial service, get that reduced down to standard-rate rail rates on shorter routes.”
Evans says that AirPool would act as ‘contracting carrier’ for per seat sales on routes such as Norwich–Liverpool and Oxford–Cambridge and use traditional industry sources of historical data to help identify potential routes. “We will complement this by analysing an additional layer of anonymous and GDPR-compliant data available from the mobile telephone companies. By analysing this data, we will be able to study travellers’ activity as they travel by train, road or air around the country, and identify clusters of activity that point to potential routes AirPool could serve.”
Evans reveals AirPool has a prototype app to accompany its corporate website launch and that currently the company is working hard to fundraise for full launch at the end of Q1 in 2021. “This will see the realisation of our demand-led, pay-per-seat model take off, working in partnership with CAA-approved operators who have surplus capacity of the appropriate aircraft types suited to sub-regional routes of up to 250 miles.”
Aircraft such as the 8-seat Pilatus PC-12 (when available on an AOC in the UK) has best-in-class direct operating costs and King Air is also suitable for the company’s model, Evans explains. “The Tecnam P2012 Traveller, Textron Sky Courier and the recently announced 10-seat commuter-fit Pilatus PC-24 furthermore give airlines and bizav operators tools to start working on the ‘new’ industry ahead of the arrival of electrically powered aircraft that could exponentially grow market opportunities and deliver huge operating cost benefits.”
Teaming with regional airlines
Evans sees great synergy in AirPool partnering with regional airlines, serving as a distribution channel to help build its community. Their size and ability to respond quickly could help identify innovative ways to service a market versus the ‘hit and hope process’ that can see an airline start and then withdraw from a route after three months. “Combine all this with the wholesale disposal of large aircraft that underpinned the hub-based networks. That process will inevitably cascade down as more small, thin routes evolve and the strength of hub networks erodes. Like a cotton-bud, comfort at both ends [of the journey] will be more critical than the bit in between [the flight] and smaller airports are better placed to manage that.”
Electrification too will be a great enabler for change and some airlines, rightly so, are already assessing how to adopt these new ultra-short haul tools to fit into their strategy. “The distinction between airlines and business aviation will be increasingly blurred,” Evans sums up. “Collaborations between the ‘old’ industries can create value for both.”