Global aviation industry failing to prepare for future growth, Emirates airline boss says

Tim Clark highlights inadequate investment in air navigation systems, new technology, skilled workers and infrastructure

Emirates airline president Tim Clark speaks at the Iata Safety Conference on Tuesday. Photo: Iata
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The aviation industry needs to prepare for the future to address the expected higher levels of travel demand, climate change challenges and operational safety, Emirates airline president Tim Clark has said.

Industry investment in air navigation systems, new technology, skilled aviation workers and infrastructure are inadequate, he said in a keynote speech on Tuesday at the International Air Transport Association's Safety Conference in Dubai.

"These days a few things are keeping me awake and one of them is future readiness," Mr Clark said.

"Are we as an industry truly ready to tackle the next 20 to 30 years? I fear that what I’ve been seeing so far are signs of an industry failure to provide the right infrastructure for the future. And more worrying, a dearth of leadership."

"How can we operate safely if we are not investing in systems, in technologies, in people and in bricks-and-mortar infrastructure?"

The aviation veteran lambasted plane-makers over repeated delays of aircraft deliveries as the airline steps up its operations to meet a surge of travel demand after bouncing back from the Covid-19 pandemic.

"How can we be assured of safety when the biggest manufacturers in commercial aviation are failing to deliver aircraft programmes to the standards and timelines requested to replace ageing fleets? Where is the accountability and oversight from their senior managers?" Mr Clark said.

Emirates has previously criticised US aircraft manufacturer Boeing for years-long delays to its 777X programme, which the airline warned would hamper its complex fleet plans.

Supply chain issues have also left suppliers and manufacturers struggling to source everything from raw materials to parts to keep the production process moving.

Highlighting the industry's shortcomings in dealing with the massive resurgence of travel demand this summer, the Emirates boss also highlighted some airports' failure to foresee the recovery after the pandemic and the reopening of global business and tourism.

"Just look at the shambolic situations we found ourselves in at many airports this summer," Mr Clark said. "We can hardly cope with current demand, not to mention future growth. And how many countries are investing to improve and expand airport infrastructure, and modernise air navigation systems?"

European hubs such as London's Heathrow and Amsterdam's Schiphol had to impose passenger caps amid long queues, delays and baggage problems due to a staff shortage.

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Emirates A380 - in pictures

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Earlier this year, major international airlines were caught off guard by safety concerns triggered by a major C-band fifth-generation (5G) wireless rollout in the US, sending them scrambling to alter flight plans or cancel them altogether.

"How did we end up in shambles at the 11th hour ... with the roll-out of 5G telecoms in the United States?" Mr Clark said.

"What kind of systems do we have that, in this day and age, pilots with fake licences are found operating aircraft with hundreds of human lives on board? Has there been sufficient investment in support programmes to build a pool of skilled aviation workers?"

Government agencies, regulators, airlines, airports, ground handlers, air navigation services, manufacturers and supply chain players must all play their part to address these industry issues, Mr Clark said.

Other challenges to operational safety include providing more mental health support to aviation workers, addressing the shortage in skilled staff, flying sustainably, addressing cyber-security threats and designing a safety framework for eVTOLs (Electric vertical take off and landing vehicles), speakers at the Iata Safety Conference said.

With the kind of growth and innovation that the industry continues to register in areas such as advanced air mobility and the number of retirements hastened by the pandemic, the industry needs to develop highly skilled talent, Billy Nolen, acting administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration, told the conference.

"This industry needs new people, including those with new skills and new abilities," he said.

"Government and industry must continue to work together and find more creative ways to build a future workforce and help them develop the advanced skill sets they all need to match [these] advancements."

Updated: October 26, 2022, 5:13 AM