Well, sort of.
There are parallels to be drawn – I know, but indulge me for a moment. With Avengers: Endgame released this week, it’s the end of an era.
Much like the Avengers, we in aviation have lost a few of our heroes recently, and there are likely to be more losses to come. As the cover of the latest issue of Airline Economics (pictured) demonstrates, we are seeing very high airline casualty rates at the moment, with forecasts of further collapses in the short and medium term. While it has been sad to see some greats fall (although the disappearances are attributed variously to flawed business models, rising fuel prices, Brexit uncertainty and lack of funding rather than a super-villain snapping his gauntleted fingers…), and we are undeniably looking at challenges as the industry cycle begins to turn, we are also seeing this provoke some self-reflection and perhaps re-direction in the industry.
Some of this reflection relates to Earth Day, which also happened in the last week, and while the commentary on the environmental impact of aviation is more or less constant, there are moments of hope peeping through the fog. We have written before about the need to develop some sort of Tony Stark-style arc reactor to innovate out a lot of the fuel-related environmental side effects, but (if we could turn for a moment from Iron Man to Thor and his lightning bolts…) there are also increasingly viable options emerging in electric technology, which are particularly suited for countries like Australia where there are high volumes of short-haul travel, and few cost-effective options for accessing remote areas. It is predicted that we could see electric 150-seat aircraft with a 500 km range in operation before 2030, which could significantly reduce both the environmental costs of air travel and the operating costs incurred by airlines running these routes, who would gradually become less reliant on expensive and polluting aviation fuel. Innovation in this vein would be a meaningful step forward for our industry.
We are also seeing quite a bit of reflection on manufacturer design philosophy, and (rather than a bit of a branding refresh, à la the very jazzy matching “Quantum Realm” suits in Endgame… sorry, that one’s a stretch) these questions go right to the heart of the assets we deal with. Where some aircraft designs are several decades old and considered tried and tested, other models have been designed from scratch, and may be better able to work with the most recent systems innovations. In the move from design to construction, there are reports in the media of build quality issues and anecdotal stories of passenger discomfort on aircraft intended for long-haul routes. Adding to the problem, we also have ongoing issues with engine development and reliability, as well as more systemic questions about the best uses for various aircraft models (which may not necessarily be what we have always thought: read more here). We clearly have a lot of thinking to do here, at all levels – manufacturer, airline, lessor and financier. But to finish on a less “existential crisis” note, there is another very topical parallel between aviation and the Avengers, and one that sounds a note of hope.
Captain Marvel’s reappearance in the final chapter of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes very little sense without going back to her standalone film, in which we discover her former life as an airforce pilot at a secret government facility, with her best friend (also a female pilot, who gets the opportunity to demonstrate her skills at impressive length), while working for the female (alien) scientist who invented the engine that would change space travel forever. We have written several times on the issues of female leadership in aviation, whether that be in the cockpit or in the boardroom, but role models like this in a film franchise of this scale can do so much more to inspire change, and do it so much faster, than we ever could.
So while it is sad to farewell the Avengers (trust me – take tissues), they do leave us richer and more motivated to do what we can – whether that is writing highly tenuous but hopefully mildly entertaining blog pieces, or taking the opportunities presented by the questions being put to our industry to work to move it forward into the next phase.