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The World Aviation Festival wrapped up in London, UK on Friday. Despite its relatively small size compared with the likes of the epic ITB Berlin event, the event attracted an impressive list of high profile airline executives from the likes of Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and JetBlue.

Here’s what I learned from this year’s event.

1. Sustainability is becoming a huge issue in commercial aviation

After passing through a sea of sustainability protestors picketing the event outside, inside, ‘sustainability’ was the hottest topic. There were a lot of canned pre-prepared responses from airline executives like saying “We are looking seriously at the issue”, and also some finger pointing. EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren was pressed on whether the explosion of low-cost flights in Europe encouraged people to travel not because they needed to, but because it was very affordable, meaning passengers flew far more than necessary.

He dodged the question by saying that his planes are more fuel efficient and therefore sustainable than premium and legacy airlines, so they should be looking at their own emissions before pointing the fingers at low-cost airlines.

2. Emirates paints a very gloomy picture of the aviation world

Arguably the biggest name speaking at the event was Sir Tim Clark, the long-term President of Emirates. It was standing room only for his keynote interview. He was first asked “How are things at Emirates?” and launched into a very depressing view of the current situation for the airline, even using the term ‘just keeping our heads above water’. Amongst the current troubles, he singled out:

  • Currency devaluations in both Argentina and the UK
  • Political uncertainty in Hong Kong
  • A contracting global economy
  • Inability to grow in France, Germany and Canada because of government-imposed capacity limits as a result of lobbying by local airlines
  • Frustrations with both Airbus and Boeing.

Sir Tim did reveal that despite the huge uncertainty in the UK market this year with Brexit worries, it remains the single most important and profitable country outside the UAE. And while other markets contract, the UK continues to grow at 6%- 8% every year. He is proud that the nine daily A380 frequencies shared across London Heathrow and Gatwick run at 93% capacity.

Dubai International Airport (DXB) (Image by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Dubai International Airport (DXB) (Image by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Virgin Atlantic considered starting a long-haul low-cost airline to compete with Norwegian

Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, was asked about how he continued planning to compete with popular low-cost airline Norwegian. The two compete on many of the same routes between London and the USA. Weiss revealed that Virgin seriously considered starting its own long-haul, low-cost airline to compete with Norwegian, but ruled it out because it’s not in its DNA to be low cost.

4. JetBlue still hasn’t ruled out a single London airport to which it’ll operate

Speaking of low-cost across the Atlantic, there’s plenty of excitement about JetBlue commencing services to the UK in 2021. President and COO Joanna Geraghty made a fairly surprising announcement that not only has JetBlue not chosen a London airport to operate to, but it hasn’t ruled any out.

Yes, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton are all still possibilities, with Geraghty even hinting it could operate to more than one.

JetBlue’s Mint service. (Photo by The Points Guy)

5. EasyJet’s app is incredible

Low-cost airlines try to cut costs at every available opportunity, often avoiding investing in things like loyalty programmes and premium lounges. So it was quite a surprise to learn just how much EasyJet has and continues to invest in its mobile app. The airline battled other leading airlines like United, KLM and Turkish Airlines to present the world’s best airline app to a panel of judges including TPG himself, Brian Kelly.

While each airline put forward a solid pitch, easyJet won easily. Their app makes low-cost travel simple, from the booking process through to travel changes and easy online check-in and mobile boarding passes. But its investment in its technology goes further — you can screenshot a #travelinspo photo you see anywhere online and load it into the app, which will work out where the photo was taken. If EasyJet flies there the app will automatically find you a flight there.

The app is also introducing voice bookings so you can simply speak to the app to explain where you want to go and it will find the flight for you.

Featured image by Alberto Riva/TPG

Know before you go.

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