Slutet på coronapandemin ser ut att vara runt hörnet och för flygmarknaden i Norden sågs det fram emot en återhämtning som skulle kunna närma sig nivåerna före pandemin. Dessvärre var det inte slut på utmaningar och i samband med att oroligheterna i närområdet österut utbröt fanns det anledning att vara orolig för hur de skulle påverka flygtrafik och flygplatser i Norden. Hittills ser det dock ut som om att detta har påverkat flygresandet i någon större utsträckning.
I februari var antalet flygresenärer i Sverige 59 procent lägre jämfört med samma period före coronapandemin. Det var en av de bästa månaderna sedan pandemins början eftersom pandemins effekter börjat klinga av och reserestriktioner släppa i takt med detta. Samtidigt laddade flygbolagen upp för sommarens trafikprogram medan flygplatserna förberedde för en fortsatt ökning av resenärer. Till exempel lanserade Norwegian ett trafikprogram i sommar med 270 linjer medan SAS har komponerat ett flygprogram med över 200 linjer till drygt 100 destinationer med bland annat nya linjer från Stockholm och Köpenhamn till Toronto. Finnair å sin sida planerar för flyg till drygt 80 destinationer från Finland. Dessutom tillkommer en ökad närvaro av Ryanair och Eurowings samt Flyr i Norge som växer sig allt större.
Med relativt sett stora trafikprogram för sommaren är det upplagt för en kraftig återhämtning för flygresandet i Norden. Ryanair och Lufthansa-ägda Eurowings har öppnat baser på Arlanda vilket inte varit fallet tidigare somrar och är det under någon tid på året som flygtrafiken ska vara stark jämfört med före coronapandemin är det under sommaren. Detta eftersom det är fritidsresandet som återhämtar sig bäst medan affärsresandet väntas ta längre tid att återhämta sig. I kombination med en ökad konkurrens med Ryanairs ökade närvaro i främst Sverige, Norge och Finland och Eurowings expansion på Arlanda är det upplagt för ett stort reseutbud för resenärer i sommaren och med en ökad konkurrens troligen lägre biljettpriser. Dock med en viss reservation för de kraftig ökade bränslepriserna.
Vad som dock dämpade framtidsutsikterna något var när oroligheterna i närområdet österut eskalerade i februari. Enligt ForwardKeys data sjönk antalet bokningar med mellan tio och 30 procent i de flesta europeiska länderna för internationellt resande under perioden 24 februari-2 mars jämfört med de tidigare sju dagarna. Värre var det för länder i östra Europa där antalet bokningar för internationellt resande minskade med 30 och 50 procent. Samtidigt är det tydligt att flygbolagen fortsatt ser en efterfrågan på resor trots de pågående oroligheterna i närområde och att det i första hand är resor till och från de berörda länderna som främst påverkas. Ett exempel på detta är bokningsstatistik för resor mellan Europa och USA som enligt IATA minskade före vid starten av oroligheterna och fortsatte att minska därefter. I mitten av mars gick det dock att se att antalet bokningar mellan Europa och USA ökar igen och detta är också något man kan se på global bokningsnivå enligt IATA.
Även om stora delar av Europa, främst de västra, och den viktiga transatlantiska marknaden står emot effekterna av den pågående situationen österut och flygbolagen ser en stark efterfrågan på flygresor finns det områden där det inte ser likande lovande ut. Europa-Asien-trafiken har drabbats hårt på grund av de luftrumsbegränsningar som införts. Detta har fått återhämtningen för resor mellan Europa och Asien, som innan var långsam jämfört med andra marknader, att tappa fart med flera flyglinjer som pausats på grund av att europeiska flygbolag inte kan använda sig av de rutter som går till och från Asien. Ett exempel på detta är SAS som pausat sin flyglinje mellan Köpenhamn och Tokyo.
Det ser ut som efterfrågan på resor både inom och till samt från Norden ser fortsatt stark ut och detsamma gäller för stora delar av Europa. SAS och Norwegian laddar för en sommar full av resor medan Finnair är det nordiska flygbolag som fått tänka om mest på grund av sitt stora fokus på trafik till Asien.
Sammanfattningsvis är en stark återhämtning i sommar trolig att se när det uppdämda behovet av resor utomlands förhoppningsvis ska hjälpa flygbranschens alla aktörer tillbaka mot hur det var före coronapandemin. Dock kommer ännu en utmaning för flygbranschen med ökade bränslepriser, som kommer påverka flygbolagens lönsamhet under sommaren när biljetter som sålts tidigare troligen inte motsvarar de prisnivåerna på biljetter som nu behövs för att täcka de ökade bränslekostnader. En ökning av priset på flygresor är att vänta på grund av bränslepriset, men kanske också för att marknaden är redo för detta med en ökande efterfrågan som gör det möjligt för flygbolagen att öka priserna efter en period av ”locka-tillbaka-priser”.
Every year there are lists developed to rate which is the best airline to fly with. Some are prestigious lists that may come with awards and valuable media attention. Given the importance of these lists it is interesting to look at the different ways that they assign ratings to airlines. This is especially important since the objectivity of some ratings have been questioned. There have been suspicions from within and outside of the aviation industry that some of these lists could be improperly influenced by airlines who want a shortcut to improved ratings.
One site that is fairly transparent about their method is usebounce.com (link to the airline rating page below), which is a company that offers luggage storage services. Their ratings focuses on airlines in the US, domestic and international ones flying into the US. Their rating system makes use of on time arrival (for domestic airlines), complaints, service, meals, seat comfort, inflight entertainment and baggage allowance. They also specify from where they get the data for these parameters, which is basically from government and other open sources.
For domestic US airlines it is Delta, Hawaiian and Horizon who take three top positions out of the twelve domestic operators on the list. At the bottom are Spirit, Allegiant and American. Even with the transparency on the page of how the rating is done, there are however questions to be asked, such as how the nature of the parameters are considered and how the different parameters are weighted against each other. As an example, counting simply the number of complaints would disadvantage airlines which transport more passengers, unless the complaints are expressed as a ratio per sector or kilometers flown. Arrivals on time was taken from July of last year, which may be a month in which a certain segment of passengers travel more, which may be the disadvantage to airlines that cater to that same segment. The service, meals, seat and inflight entertainment are based on reviews submitted too the website airlinequality.com, which does not say much about methodology. It is however based on passenger reviews but a lot of questions remains how balanced and robust this system is in regards to comparing different amounts of complaints and being able to withstand campaigns of manipulation.
The three top positions for best international airline were taken by All Nippon Airways (ANA), Singapore Airlines and Korean Air. It seems fair to wonder if the fact that three Asian airlines took the three too spots may be linked to cultural aspects, such as that passengers from these countries may be less likely to complain than passengers from other countries. This leads to further thoughts about how reliable these kind of ratings are mmost of them seem to have quite a naive trust in numbers. It should be noted that even the well established ratings of World Airline Awards – SKYTRAX (link) have been questioned (link), with some airlines withdrawing from the rating system (link). Simply the fact that Skytrax offers consulting services to airlines and airports should be enough to be suspicious of its ratings, especially as there have been examples hurting the credibility of them. One such example was when Hainan Airlines in 2011 received a 5-star rating concurrent with a consulting project.
In summary, what this little example shows is that even when there is transparency about a methodology that looks sound at first glance, there are many more questions to ask about any rating system for airlines. There seem to be a lack of integrity and scientific rigour missing for these systems, at least if they should be given the trust of potential passengers. These ratings systems will continue to attract media attention but those of us who work in and may be affected by them should be asking for something better than the rating systems which are around today.
Link to article:
The 2021 Airline Index
This story is about one of two major manufacturers and a global and growing airline. The manufacturer wants to sell aircraft, the airline wants to buy and use them to extend its network. There should be little that could go wrong with this, but gone all wrong it has and on full display for the whole world to see. This story has been covered by numerous news outlets, including probably all that cover the aviation industry. Still, it may be worth reiterating the story and add some reflections to this, as it is still ongoing and may still escalate further.
In an unexpected move, Airbus recently cancelled an aircraft order for 50 A321s from Qatar worth 6 billion USD (link). While airlines regularly delays, changes or cancels order, the cancellation of an order by a manufacturer is a very rare move. An Airbus statement simply concluded: “We confirm we did terminate the contract for 50 A321s with Qatar Airways in accordance with our rights”.
The Airbus action was in response to Qatar repeatedly and increasingly loudly voicing their complaints about flagging surface paint on their A350 aircraft. Recently the airline circulated pictures of the damage and expressed concerns about lightning protection systems, underlying composite structures being expose and showing signs of cracking, damage around rivets on the aircraft fuselage and other defects. In response the airline has grounded 21 out of their 53 A350s. After threats of court action, in December last year the airline took the manufacturer to court for the alleged problems with the aircraft. A hearing is scheduled for late April and the airline is seeking 618 million USD, plus 4 million USD per day, as compensation from the manufacturer.
There have been a number of steps on the way to the current situation, which have included involvement by IATA, EASA, Qatar CAA and others. There are many details about this story but covering even some of them would make this a very long post. In addition, there are probably as much information and political manoeuvres behind the scenes as in public view. It should however be noted that Qatar Airways is the only airline with this problem that have decided to ground affected aircraft.
As for the two parties involved in this, on the one hand we have Qatar Airways, represented by their CEO Akbar Al Baker. He has a history of courting controversy, often triggered by his own statements. He has made inflammatory statements about women in the aviation industry, for which he later apologised. He has threatened to leave the OneWorld alliance, called the Delta CEO a “bully” and “liar” and regularly and publicly expressed direct criticism towards other competitors, manufacturers and others. Al Baker has expressed his respect for Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary and it is difficult to not wonder if his statements reflect a similar strategy of using provocation to get attention and then benefit from the free media exposure that comes along with it.
On the other hand we have Airbus, the at this point in time more faceless giant manufacturer. They seems far less interested in the attention they are getting for this situation, especially as this follows a very expensive settlement of bribery charges in 2020. It is not hard to see why the manufacturer would rather have the situation with Qatar Airways go away but even accepting the loss of a large order may not be enough to achieve this. Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA, expressed concern in reference to the Qatar Airways and Airbus situation about suppliers exploiting market strength.
Regardless of who is right or wrong in this ongoing conflict, this is a situation that should have been resolved before it became a global news story. The current media attention on does nothing good for anyone of the parties involved or for the aviation industry. More than this is not really possible to say with any certainty until more information about what went on behind the scene becomes available. What can be said with certainty is that this will surely become a case study used in aviation management courses everywhere. At least there may be a lot of learning from it by then.
It is too often possible to equate news with negative news. There are reasons of this to be found in human psychology but unfortunately this means that we often miss out on hearing about progress that can inspire and motivate more positive action. One example of this are efforts in recent years in the aviation industry to combat Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT). This was brought up in an article on the site International Airport Review (link below) and it is a piece of news that deserve to be spread further across the industry.
The base for work with this issue an international agreement called CITES, which stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Up to 2015 there were individual airline initiatives to prevent such trade but not a comprehensive aand coordinated industry strategy or any broad international cooperation. However, as attention to this issue increased over time something had to happen.
One important step to establish such cooperation was the formation of the partnership ROUTES, which is an acronym for Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species. This was initiated by USAID and brought together government, industry (e.g. Airports Council International – ACI), International Air Transport Association – IATA) and non-government organisations (The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network – TRAFFIC, World Wildlife Foundation – WWF).
The work was then started by collecting data and producing reports on IWT in the aviation industry. With facts and good arguments available, awareness and training materials were developed and disseminated. ROUTES also developed technological solutions, such as a reporting app for illegal wildlife trade, which allows for anonymous reporting when there is suspicion of IWT. These reports go to the organisation Crime Stoppers for review and sharing law enforcement agencies. In the first two months after launch in September 2021 more than 120 reports were submitted by aviation personnel. In another project an algorithm to detect wildlife products during baggage screening was developed.
The ROUTES initiative has been concluded and the industry now has the information, knowledge and practices in place to continue the work of preventing IWT and wildlife products. Many companies in the industry have signed the United for Wildlife Buckingham Palace Declaration, which includes formal assessments of their IwT prevention standards, and encouraging other companies to adhere to these standards. There are however still parts of the industry which do not live up to the same standards as the companies who have fully implemented awareness and preventive measures for IWT.
I was aware of the issue of IWT and the there has been measures take in the industry. I must however admit that I was unaware of the progress made. In terms of awareness, training and preventive efforts this looks like success. Still, it seems difficult to find numbers which can validate that these measures have affected IWT. It can probably be assumed that initiatives in recent years have made IWT more difficult, but the ultimate success needs to be assessed on the effects they have had. Even so, the progress so far should be recognised and lead to further efforts to ensure that IWT will be effectively combatted.
Link to article:
How the aviation industry transformed to combat wildlife trafficking
EUROCONTROL is a pan-European, civil-military organisation with 41 member states, dedicated to supporting European aviation. Among a range of activities within the organisation is the production of a magazine called HindSight. It is a magazine on human and organisational performance in air traffic management (ATM) and its aim is to improve performance at individual, group and organisational levels.
The traditional focus of HindSight is on operational safety, but the scope has expanded to consider performance more generally, with a particular focus on improving everyday work and performance as a whole. The latest edition of HindSight became available only a few days ago and its theme is Digitalisation and Human Performance.
HindSight 33, with its 80 pages, includes a wide variety of articles from front-line staff and specialists in technology, change, safety, human factors, and human and organisational performance in aviation.
Among the highlights are:
• The many meanings of AI, by Erik Hollnagel – link
• Flight deck human factors and digitalisation: Possibilities and dilemmas, a conversation with FAA’s Kathy Abbott, by Steven Shorrock. – link
• Building adaptive capacity: Amplifying the combined strenghts of humans and machines, by Rogier Woltjer and Tom Laursen – link
• A regulator’s perspective on digitalisation and human performance, by Kathryn Jones and Anna Vereker – link
And of course, there is so much more worth reading in this issue. Here is a link to the full magazine: link
And finally, I managed to make my own contribution even to this edition. It is called “Digitalisation vs human flexibility” and you can find it here: link
While 2021 was a better year for the aviation industry, it was hardly an overall good one. Some regions of the world saw a return of traffic and for some airlines even profitability. However, for many more it was another year of hardship and battle to stay alive. As per October last year, based on Q3 results, IATA predicted that net losses would be 51.8 billion USD in 2021 and that this would narrow to $11.6 billion in 2022.
To get some idea of what was going on in 2021 and use that to predict what will happen in 2022, looking at which routes that were most flown mean be useful. Thus has done by the excellent website routesonline.com (link to article below). As expected, domestic routes dominated the top positions, with all but one of the top 50 being domestic (the only international one being the fifteen minute flight between St Barthelemy and St Maarten in the Caribbean). Only eight out of the 400 routes with most traffic were international ones.
This was to be expected, as shorter routes normally will have more traffic and because COVID favoured domestic travel. At the top of the list we find China with eleven domestic routes among the top 50. A further five countries in Asia – India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea – had four domestic routes each on the list. In addition, the US also had four domestic routes on the list. Again, it is no surprise that the four countries with most people are represented on the list. China and India with around 1.4 billion people, followed by the US which needs aviation to overcome its great distances and the archipelago nation of Indonesia which needs it to cross waters.
South Korea, with a population of 51 million and without vast distances to overcome, was a bit of a surprise though. However, it was a Korean route that came out on top of the list – 450 km route between the capital Seoul (Gimpo-GMP) and the resort island Jeju (CJU). This route was trafficked by an astounding 235 flights a day, which offered a total of 17.1 million seats. The number of seats was down with less than 2% compared to 2019. Drivers for this is a well developed economy and aviation industry, a working culture offering limited time for leisure (if it was easier to take longer time off from work there would longer stays and less travel). Even more surprising was however that also the second busiest was in South Korea, the one from Seoul (Gimpo-GMP) to the southern port city of Busan (PUS).
The domestic routes on the list following the two top ones were Jeddah (JED)-Riyadh King Khalid (RUH), Fukuoka (FUK)-Tokyo Haneda (HND) and Sapporo New Chitose (CTS)-Tokyo Haneda. The other seven international routes that made the top 400 list, behind St Barthelemy and St Maarten, was Orlando (MCO)-San Juan (SJU-Puerto Rico), Bonaire (BON)-Curacao (CUR), Houston (IAH)-Mexico City (MEX) and Cairo (CAI)-Jeddah. Among the routes that drastically dropped on the list were Melbourne (MEL)-Sydney (SYD), Hanoi (HAN)-Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) and Mumbai (BOM)-Delhi (DEL). Still, no one dropped more drastically than Kuala Lumpur (KUL)-Singapore (SIN), which went from 31,000 to 3800 flights and from being the busiest international route in 2019 to number 1407 on the list in 2021. Also, Hong Kong (HKG)-Taipei (TPE) and Jakarta (CGK)- Singapore (SIN), the second and third busiest international routes in 2019, were down by more than 80% in 2021.
As can be seen in these somewhat dry numbers, they reflect geography, demographics, economy, politics and so much more. There is a lot to reflect on when looking at the numbers and trends. Knowing this, we can now look forward to how the situation will evolve in 2022!
Link to article:
What Were The Busiest Routes In 2021?
Senast jag skrev om detta var i september förra året. Då var den faktiska återhämtningen för flygtrafik snabbare än den mest positiva prognosen. Hur ser det ut nu?
Den blå linjen visar en bas-prognos medan den gröna linjen visar den mest positiva prognosen och den röda en mer pessimistisk. Den vita linjen visar den faktiska utvecklingen och som synes ger den senaste tidens kraftiga spridning av omikron-varianten (och de restriktioner som införts) tydligt utslag. Vi ligger nu på en nivå motsvarande 75 % av trafiknivån från 2019, där prognosen pekade på 79 med hopp om 87 %.
Fortfarande dominerar inrikestrafik, där Frankrike hade 896 inrikesflygningar, Spanien 817 och Norge 631, alla siffror från 12 januari. Sverige klättrar i den rankingen och är på en nionde-plats med 206 flygningar. Det flygbolag som flyger mest är Ryanair som hade 905 flygningar 12 januari (-49 % om man jämför med 2019). Sedan följer Turkish Airlines med 888 flygningar (-27 %), Lufthansa med 669 flygningar (-53 %), Air France med 658 flygningar (-42 %), KLM med 521 flygningar (-28 %), Wizz Air med 372 flygningar (-17 %) och SAS med 342 flygningar (-53 %).
Det är en hårt drabbad bransch som nu ska hantera även detta. Dessutom stiger bränslepriserna! Den mest aktiva flygplatsen i Europa 12 januari var Istanbul (826 rörelser), följd av Paris (794 rörelser), och Amsterdam (793 dagliga rörelser).
Den gällande prognosen kom förra året:
Den mest positiva kurvan visar att en återhämtning till nivån från 2019 kan nås i år, basnivån säger slutet av 2023 medan en mer pessimistisk prognos säger 2027.
För Sveriges del har det inte kommit nya siffror från Transportstyrelsen sedan i slutet av oktober. Då såg man en tydlig ökning. Under det tredje kvartalet 2021 flög över 4,1 miljoner passagerare till och från svenska flygplatser vilket var 2,5 miljoner fler än under samma period 2020.
It’s now 26 years ago since I walked through the doors at Arlanda Airport to sign in for my first day as an aviation employee. Little did I know where my career would take me that day.
Ten airlines, three continents, and dozens of positions later I’ve learned the importance of building a personal network and how this has supported me to overcome challenges that are headed in my general direction. More often than not, it was personal contacts and recommendations that ultimately landed me the new position.
The Go-To Person
When I worked in Sweden, I always had numerous go-to persons in various positions within each organization. Knowing someone at a different position within the company is of great importance and can be your most valued asset when you expect it the least. Being able to seek advice or clarification “offline” can be a lot easier than having to expose yourself via official communication channels.
I encourage everyone starting a new position to be open to making professional
friendships with those in other departments. You never know who could grow to become a “go-to person”. It is nothing but beneficial to have these persons on speed dial when you need advice and/or guidance. I’ve never actively looked for the go-to person but instead, have been myself, stayed open-minded, and let the relationship happen.
Mentorship is something that is changing right now and is about to be divided into two categories. I choose to call them Official and Unofficial Mentorship.
The Official Mentorship is something new. In the wake of Colgan Air 3407, the FAA convened an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) tasked to develop guidance for air carriers in the areas of mentoring, professional development, leadership, and command training. It is more likely to be a more process-oriented concept that needs some kind of documentation/track record for compliance purposes. Let’s hope the effective mentorship isn’t getting weakened by mandatory documentation for compliance purposes.
(More on this in my previous article “NexCap”: link.) The Unofficial Mentorship goes hand in hand with CRM/TEM that is already a familiar and known concept in aviation. In the unofficial context, senior, more experienced crewmembers are supporting the younger, less experienced crewmembers on a daily basis by sharing their knowledge, experience, expertise, and techniques.
The Interview Coach
Since I graduated from flight school back in 2006 I have completed more interviews than I care to mention, likely more than most pilots have in an entire career. The reasons are several, but after a few years it was apparent I was not able to sell myself to a recruiter in a good way. Coming to this realization was difficult, but the process of overcoming the challenge has been very rewarding and satisfying.
Before I made the biggest change of my life, moving to the United States, I decided to get myself a personal coach. I was facilitated to better understand the interview process and improve my ability to perform and sell myself at a job interview. My first session was in the summer of 2016. Prior to coaching, I had found myself walking into the trap of trying to respond to interview questions with answers that I thought the recruiter wanted to hear. The effective coaching, facilitated and tailored to my needs boosted my awareness tremendously.
Four years later my success rate is 100% on the six different interviews that followed, each culminating with job offers. Suddenly I was facing a new and different challenge, having to say “No thank you” to a pilot job. Coaching was a game-changer and an eye-opener for me, and I highly recommend this to anyone who has an upcoming interview or is just looking for a change. There were two huge epiphanies from my coaching sessions:
• 80% of communication is non-verbal
• The recruiters want to know WHO you are, nothing else.
I had been doing it all wrong for ten years and never asked anyone about it. A couple of sessions later my secret formula was broken down into three basic and very simple questions:
• WHAT? (What had I done wrong?)
• WHY? (Why did I do it wrong?)
• HOW? (How can I correct it?)
The importance of familiarizing yourself with someone that can guide and support you before you are “on the spot” cannot be emphasized enough. Identify a person who knows the field you’re interviewing for, someone who understands the challenges, someone who can facilitate you to sell yourself and be able to bring out your strengths and at the same time know your own weaknesses and weak spots. By learning to identify, and more importantly, how to successfully embrace your own weaknesses you are able to unlock the greatest strength of them all – confidence.
Mentors, Coaches, Go-To Persons, and industry connections, in general, are indispensable. The various titles/functions I’ve identified can be the same person but don’t have to be.
In the end, it’s all about consolidating the knowledge needed for the phase you’re presently facing. It’s critical to assure you’re not running in the wrong direction and focusing on the wrong things. The network I have gathered for over 26 years is probably more valuable now than ever before. On numerous occasions, I have been steered to opportunities that I might never have identified on my own. However, when you have landed a job it’s only the beginning of the networking that potentially never ends.
“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
sentimental with my pen
That is it – the blog page and portal for Lund University School of Aviation is closing for the holiday season. While 2021 brought the turnaround for the aviation industry we all hoped for, it was still a very difficult year for many. This is sadly emphasised by the current issues with the new variant and the return of industry uncertainty that has come with it. Still, the year behind represented recovery and next year looks to be promising of more.
The somewhat early holiday is prompted by workload as well as by the due date of a very special gift before the holiday for the editor of this blog, which may affect the timing of when it returns early next year. The year behind us had many posts that received a fair amount of attention, but the biggest change was the shift from being a blog in Swedish to a greater focus on posts in English.
A few highlights of the year which are worth mentioning are Anders Ellerstrand’s series on procedures (link to first part here), Simon Ericsson’s extensive industry reports and our first post on cargo security by guest writer Gary Martin (link).
Among other reader and personal favourites were the posts about unruly passengers (link and link), about “Zombie airlines” (link), Planes vs. Trains (link), about Mitsubishi Spacejet (link) and about flying in Africa (link).
Thank you to all readers and commenters, as well as to those who comment and share on other platforms where the posts are shared. We do hope for more posts, comments and discussions, and certainly for more guest writers for next year. If you are interested in expressing your reflections on a small ut credible platform, we will welcome your post and help with getting it out to the industry.
To add to the feelings of the season, here is a list of top ten aircraft in Christmas livery – link.
Again, best wishes for the Holiday Season and for the new year for all of you out there. See you in 2022!
A recent article on nationalacademies.org (which certainly sounds like a solid reference) has as its title “Driverless Motor Vehicles: Not Yet Ready for Prime Time” (link below). Since an abundance of media space too often is given to press releases from technology companies, which are then echoed by techno-optimistic bloggers, this was a title that caught my eye. While it would be nonsensical to deny the achievements of technological progress and a mistake to minimise them, there are still reasons to remain cautious about some of the promises made by visionaries of technological progress. If they all would have come through as envisioned, I would already in teenage years have been flying to school in a jetpack and friendly robots would have guided me to fully immersive learning experiences (instead of having to bicycle to school and watch the teacher write on a blackboard – and yes, I am that old, blackboards and overhead projectors were the prime means for display of information back then).
The article acknowledges that the current death toll in traffic could be significantly reduced with increased use of automation for road transportation. However, it does pose two questions often asked in regards to automation: 1) What happens if the automation fails? and 2) What if the automation has to handle a situation that has not been considered by its designers? These questions has been asked throughout the history of automation, robotics and AI and it has been explored by researchers and others thinking about the potential and limitations of technology. In the article, these questions are focused on fully automated vehicles, i.e. self-driving cars but it brings up many aspects which are equally relevant for aviation.
The article goes on to discuss the challenges to achieve the vision of a fully automated road transportation system and references the experiences of automation in aviation. The point made is that in aviation, automation has been an ongoing process for decades, that this has been in a less complex environment than road transport and that still today pilots are not expected to be replaced any time soon. I am not sure that I agree with either of these statements, given the complexity of any airspace environment, especially close to a major airport, and the current developments towards single pilot operations. But perhaps complexity can be a matter of perspective.
Developing autonomous vehicles is, according to the article, more challenging than previously envisioned and will take longer than many of its proponents advocates have anticipated. Also, the many Human Factors challenges experienced in aviation are mentioned, with implicit reference to accidents and experienced related to automation. Special emphasis is placed upon the difficulties of mixing autonomous and human operators and the potential failures of automation. The recent Boeing 737MAX accidents are brought up, so is the “Miracle on the Hudson”, as a counterpoint. While providing a less positive perspective than often encountered in texts about automated transport, it is useful to read this perspective and consider the remaining obstacles to this vision.
The point of the article may be supported by the experience in daily life of interacting with the “chatbots” often used these days for customer service. Even if it is not made clear to us that we are speaking to a bot, it does not take long (a non-standard question is usually enough) until we realise that we are not chatting with another human being. For a range of simple questions (location, opening hours, ticket prices etc.) we would probably not have known the difference. But for anything beyond this they usually create nothing else but frustration. Even as these chatbots gets far more advanced, those last five percent of difference to a human may still be challenging to resolve. The same may prove to be true for both driverless cars and pilotless planes.
Link to article:
Driverless Motor Vehicles: Not Yet Ready for Prime Time