Asians To Lead Air Travel In The Coming Decades

And they want wider seats and Wi-fi.

By the year 2032, 45% of air travel passengers will hail from Asia, making Asians the incipient lords of air travel who will determine the strategy and trends of the industry in the decades to come. This statistic was determined by a recent study published by Airbus, the France-based manufacturer of commercial and military aircraft.

The survey identified two types of travellers that are fast emerging from the region: the young and affluent, between the ages of 18 and 34, who are highly informed about the flying experience due to readily available online information; and the high income frequent traveller, with a more advanced career and who ranks comfort during air travel very highly.

Airbus’ Head of Passenger Comfort, Kevin Keniston, said, “The voice of the Asian passenger is fast becoming the dominant voice in the aviation industry and will dictate the future of flight. This new research clearly shows that comfort is paramount to satisfying the needs of long haul travel for the Asian population now and in the future.”

Interestingly, the research revealed that legroom is not the top requirement for what is perceived as comfort during air travels. Rather, Asian travellers prioritise ‘wider seats’ followed by ‘on-board productivity’ and only then ‘more legroom’. We venture that this is because, in general, Asians are shorter in stature and do not require as much space to stretch their legs (if you consider this a racist remark, it is simply a fact – see Average Height Around The World).

The study further found that Wi-fi accessibility in midair will be a prerequisite for Asian jetsetters in the future. What the study does not delve into is whether passengers are willing to pay for the service. The technology has, after all, been available for some time now, but usually for a fee, which is the reason behind its slow uptake.
The leading in-flight Internet provider, Gogo, has found that usage of its Wi-fi service continues to flounder at below 6%. While some airlines are reluctant to subsidise the service because it involves third party cost, JetBlue, America’s low cost carrier, launched its own Fly-Fi service last December which will remain free until June 2014, with a premium fee for higher speeds. Because Fly-Fi was developed and is maintained internally, there is a possibility that JetBlue will be able to provide the service for free indefinitely. If it is so, then airlines which can provide in-flight Wi-fi without additional charges may lure more customers from their competitors, especially for longer flights.

Asia-based airlines that are getting connected include Thai Airways starting this month, but fees are exorbitant at USD4.50 for 3MB and USD14 for 10MB; Singapore Airlines’ rates are slightly lower at USD10 for 10MB and USD25 for 30MB. Still, they are far from being value for money and usage will be limited to the occasional urgent email.

Meanwhile, Airbus’ (only other) competitor, Boeing, agrees that air traffic growth will come from Asia. According to the American aircraft manufacturer, the Asia Pacific region will, in the next 20 years, require 12 820 planes valued at USD1.9 trillion, making up 36% of all new airplane deliveries.

Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s Vice President of Marketing, in a pre-Singapore Air Show media briefing said, “The Asia Pacific fleet will nearly triple, from 5 090 airplanes in 2012 to 14 750 airplanes in 2032, to support the increased demand.”

The emergence of low cost carriers, Malaysia’s AirAsia and Indonesia’s Lion Air amongst them, has fuelled the travelling boom, and these airlines have made aggressive bulk orders with both Airbus and Boeing. India’s Tata has also entered into partnerships with AirAsia and Singapore Airlines, which will open up air travel to the second largest population in the world.

While we have yet to solve the world’s road traffic problems, the air above us is about to get very, very busy.


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