From A Crisis, There Is Often An Opportunity
The aviation industry is facing the longest and deepest crisis it has ever faced, and yet the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of regional connections. Regional aircraft have been instrumental to support emergencies through repatriations, the transport of medical supplies and medevacs, with operators such as Air Madagascar, Air Austral, playing a vital role for the communities they serve. As we all look forward to seeing the market rebound, we must recognise that the essential connectivity supplied by regional airlines will be crucial to getting the world turning again.
Resilience In The Face Of The Crisis
The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the whole industry. Yet, there is a clear trend that the regional sector has been more resilient. Regional aircraft, and in particular ATR aircraft, saw the latest and shallowest decline alongside the earliest recovery, with 71% of the ATR fleet back in service worldwide – 74% in Africa.ATR aircraft opened seven new routes in the continent in 2020. The reason is that regional aircraft operate principally on domestic routes.
Whether it is linking local business to capital cities, reuniting families, or delivering vital medical aid and supplies to communities, regional aircraft help bring people, goods and markets together.
Market Recovery And Right-sizing
Amidst Covid-19, the fundamentals of the business remain the same. There will always be short thin routes that need to be served, and African regional airlines need the aircraft with the best economics for that;an aircraft that is built for efficient short-haul operations to create strong links between cities, stimulate economic development and facilitate opportunities for businesses; an aircraft that is versatile, and that has the lowest trip cost on the market.
Thanks to the efficiency of their turboprop engines, the ATR family, comprising a 50-seater, a 70-seater, a purpose-built freighter and, soon, a short take-off and landing variant, is the ideal solution. The ATR 72-600 burns less fuel than other turboprops, resulting in a 20% operating cost advantage. Which in turn enables operators to provide affordable fares and open new routes for their customers. The ATR offers the most competitive solution for regional connectivity particularly where many markets are flying the wrong sized assets, most noticeably larger sized jets, at a substantially higher cost base with substantial losses.
Another way to support the recovery of the African regional aviation market is through offering operators the opportunity of right-sizing. This means enabling airlines to adapt to a lower demand, so that they can continue to stimulate economic recovery by connecting local communities and industries. Using ATR aircraft to reconnect city pairs, even on longer routes, would certainly make more financial sense for regional airlines that are struggling under the financial constraints of the pandemic.
The freighter market will also be significant in terms of generating orders that will support a recovery. ATR’s latest forecast sees the need for 460 freighters worldwide in the 3 to 8 ton category over the next 20 years, and the demand is particularly strong in Africa.
Bridging The Gap Toward Disruptive Technology
This pandemic will also leave us with a clear common objective of drastically reducing emissions. The world is seeking the emergence of a more sustainable aviation industry. Emitting 40% less CO2 than a similarly sized regional jet, ATR aircraft will play a key role now and in the future as the shift to a more sustainable industry occurs. In the coming years, improvements to the aircraft’s environmental footprint will continue to be implemented, bridging the gap toward disruptive technology while the implementation of the necessary ecosystem and infrastructure occurs.
This market recovery should really begin towards the end of 2021 and in the shorter to medium-term will be driven by a replacement wave. There are over 900 ageing 30-50 seat turboprop aircraft, which are approaching retirement. These aircraft need to be replaced or the communities and economies that they serve will lose vital connectivity.
All of this shows that there are reasons to be optimistic for the future of regional aviation. The importance of the services that regional operators provide is clear and this connectivity is going to be important for communities long into the future, as shifts in living and working arrangements post-pandemic will create new opportunities for regional travel.
Flying patterns will change, passengers will look for options enabling them to avoid crowded airports and higher capacity aircraft, and domestic operations will become dominant. Besides, as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) just came into force, we will see new demand and markets for direct air transport links emerge. African regional airlines will continue to have a crucial role to play in building a more connected world and a brighter future for everyone.