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For years, high demand for travel, aided by easy access to credit, has enabled airlines to work extensively on new innovations. However, now that budgets are being cut on all ends, innovation, which was once seen as the “fun” playground part of the business to run experiments and find new, better ways to operate has turned into a topic with side-line character. But is that the right mindset? What if the current circumstances are just the right time to put new ideas on the top of the agenda? What if the crisis actually catalyses new innovations in the industry?

“Everybody is looking to do things differently

and find better, faster ways to operate”

Dejan Borota – Mainblades Director

The crisis

Everyone is in survival mode. Since the outbreak of the crisis, millions of flights have been canceled worldwide and countless aircraft have been grounded. This situation causes severe financial pressure on air operators, as well as on their service providers and the whole supply chain. With most of the world’s aircraft fleet currently in storage or infrequently flying, they are faced with the extra task of maintaining their aircraft until the time is right to fly again. It is no surprise that airlines are hesitant to invest in new technologies or adopt new procedures right now. And because of this, one aspect that may suffer a great deal in the short term is innovation.

aircraft drone inspection demo in maastricht adressing innovations in MRO
Mainblades Director Dejan Borota during a presentation at Schiphol Airport

The wakeup call

However, if Covid taught us one thing, it’s this: out of adversity comes opportunity. Never waste a good crisis. These words may have been used so much after the outbreak of the pandemic that they have lost their meaning by now. Understandably, the news is dominated by it and it seems like the world sometimes stands still. However, the contrary is the case. The world is spinning at full speed urging airlines and MROs to act. And because of this, new ideas and new innovations are more important than ever.

Covid has created a landscape that above all proves the benefits of digital and automated processes. As airlines desperately try to mitigate the crisis and begin to recover, technology companies are therefore doubling efforts to come up with ideas to make operations more efficient and safer.  “There are many unique opportunities for new innovations at the moment“, says Mainblades Director Dejan Borota. “In these difficult times for the industry, everybody is looking to do things differently and find better, faster ways to operate”.

Never waste a good crisis

Commonly, when talking about new innovations in aviation, you often hear about new airplanes, better engines, more resistible materials and sustainable fuels. With the emergence of robotics, VR, AI, and blockchain, digital solutions are also increasingly considered within the aircraft maintenance sector. Especially drones are now being re-examined to solve crucial COVID-19 challenges. “After all, with so many aircraft being grounded due to Covid, the need to keep them operationally available while cutting maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) costs is a pressing issue, that will only intensify over the next years”, Borota says. “This is where our solution comes in. What can take engineers a few days, can be done by a drone in a few hours with much higher accuracy.”

Doing things differently

While changes take time and effort, the future prospects for the aviation industry are beginning to take shape and there is much cause for optimism. Borota notes that although aviation budgets have been tight—especially during the beginning of the pandemic—the situation has actually opened doors for talks with more prospective customers. More than ever, airlines have therefore offered to open up their hangars, and facilitate the actual usage of such technologies. “Suddenly, improving operations in innovative ways has turned from a ‘nice to have’ to a crucial strategy for survival“.

Looking beyond

So, will aviation’s biggest crisis be the catalyst to finally achieve long-term oriented innovation? In any case one thing is certain: business leaders who look beyond survival to opportunities the crisis could create will be in a stronger position to take full advantage of an economic recovery. As we will hopefully soon be able to leave the pandemic behind us and return to a new normal, there is an opportunity to grab and build on the advancements of many innovations that were worked on during these unprecedented times. Whether it’s through AI, VR, robotics, blockchain, or drones, innovations plays a critical role for recovery and, therefore, is essential for future business success. As an ancient Chinese says, when the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others windmills.

How is your organization getting involved in innovation? Which technologies are you expecting to change your workplace over the next years?

Let us know!