Today, three billion passengers and nearly 50 million tons of cargo fly each year around the world. These numbers will increase significantly, as air traffic has doubled every 15 years. There is currently no sign that this trend will change.

Therefore, thinking about the future of aviation can make one truly excited about what exactly could be possible in the decades to come. Due to global changes, players like aircraft manufacturers and airlines are working on groundbreaking initiatives such as renewable biofuel or eco-efficient airplane materials. Furthermore, innovative and disruptive thinkers such as Richard Branson or Elon Musk showcase that one can anticipate major changes in the aviation industry.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing the global airline industry, declared the year 2014 the 100th anniversary of commercial air travel. A 20-minute flight from Florida’s St. Petersburg to Tampa was the starting point for what most people take for granted today: the ability to connect to destinations no matter where in the world. Even as the Internet and social media link us virtually, we still need— and want—to travel and meet people in person.

Competition does not mean less business

It is true that competition amongst airlines is becoming more intense. However, the overall industry is experiencing ongoing growth.

In this context, it is important to mention that travel patterns are shifting. Today, the gravity of global air traffic is completely different from what it was 30 years ago. The centers of economic growth are moving from the West to the East. In particular, emerging markets in Asia and Africa are now in the spotlight of the aviation industry. More people, a growing middle class and vibrant megacities will fuel the growth of the industry.

Increasing need for communications

The growth of the industry has gone hand in hand with troubling external factors such as global crises. This has increased attention from the public. This year has shown remarkable proof of this: Malaysia Airlines lost two airplanes, the airports in Tel Aviv and Tripoli had to shut down due to missile attacks, and planes crashed in Mali and Taiwan. One thing is clear: the aviation sector, and airlines in particular, are becoming more and more subject to intensive media coverage and are constantly under public scrutiny.

Three developments emphasize the need to strengthen the communications capabilities of the industry.

  • The aviation sector can be coined a crisis-prone business. A crisis can cause disruptions to the entire market and lead to the failure of individual players. Even immense market shifts can come unexpectedly. A swift and coherent response is crucial for business continuity.
  • Consumers are asking more questions. They are increasingly becoming more demanding, putting pressure on airlines. Communication, and reputation management in particular, becomes more and more important.
  • Public scrutiny is intense, especially in emerging markets. Topics like environmental impact and airport restrictions demonstrate an apparent problem: the industry is tightly regulated in one place and less regulated in another; however, the actors are working globally. This will be a defining factor for the future as well.

Must-have communication guidelines for the aviation industry

There are a variety of issues that the aviation industry must address in order to ensure brand recognition and customer loyalty. These include, most notably, safety and security, customer-focused services and sustainability.

Enhanced communication is crucial to respond to the most imminent issues of this sector and manage the reputation of all industry members. Four communication guidelines should help in this context:

  • Glocalize your stakeholder communication: join the community and emphasize local footprints in relevant markets. Make sure all relevant stakeholders from the economy, politics and society are involved and informed about relevant developments within the aviation sector. Topics like CO2-reduction and environmental concerns regarding airport infrastructure projects will continue to be important issues. Other topics such as noise emission at city airports will remain a topic that regularly evokes public outcry, especially in developed markets.
  • Invest in crisis communications: since aviation is a crisis-prone industry. Incidents like 9/11 or the loss of airplanes in various regions of the world have shown that it is crucial for all participants involved (not only airlines) to communicate effectively.
  • Focus on customers: talk about issues that are relevant for customer satisfaction such as safety, proximity to airports, board entertainment and customer service.
  • Do not neglect internal communications: uninformed or, even worse, dissatisfied employees can have a huge impact on the success of any company—especially the aviation industry. Companies in the aviation sector need to make sure that they keep their staff informed about relevant and critical issues.

The commercial aviation industry is growing. Recent decades have seen rapid change but also a variety of new challenges. Communication can and will help to let this sector soar and, with it, facilitate the exchange of people and ideas.

This post is part of “The Next 30,” a series by junior to mid-level staff in celebration of APCO Worldwide’s 30th anniversary. View all posts in The Next 30 series and subscribe via email here.

Christoph Mielke
Christoph Mielke

Christoph Mielke is a director in APCO Worldwide’s Brussels office where he leads the health care practice. Read More