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Flying Into Our Sustainable Future: How New Technology and the Infrastructure Bill are Shaping the Aviation Industry

04/22/2022 12:57 PM | Cinnamon Thompson (Administrator)

The Southern California Development Forum (SCDF) is an organization that brings together a community of real estate leaders on the latest trends, strategies, projects and provides networking opportunities. The organization hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, discussing how new technology and the infrastructure bill is helping advance the aviation industry and the challenges faced from the viewpoint of local airport authorities.

Ravi Singh, Director of the Los Angeles Region for Burns, served as the moderator for panelists Patrick Lammerding of Hollywood Burbank Airport, Michelle Brantley of Ontario International Airport, and Robert Schultz of the Los Angeles World Airports.

The Aviation Industry Looks Towards a More Sustainable Future

We are in an era of innovative technology and sustainability initiatives developing in the aviation industry, from electric aircraft to hydrogen fuel and new legislative funding. Correspondingly, airports and airlines are making significant efforts to decarbonize their operations and assets to pursue a more sustainable future.

“When it comes to impacting our environmental footprint, we see the biggest opportunity in our transportation system,” said Robert Shultz, Chief of Airport Planning for Los Angeles World Airports. “A few years ago, we developed a mobility planning unit and have really been focused on how we can embrace demand-based policies to optimize our operations.”

Emerging Technology in Southern California

As technology advances in Southern California, discussions around flying taxis, air shuttles and flying autonomous vehicles becoming very likely in the next decade, industry leaders are keeping a keen pulse on the advancing technology.

“We are definitely accounting for the future of transportation in our planning processes, but until it becomes commonly accessible and affordable to the public, it will be difficult to implement,” said Michelle Brantley, Chief Planning Officer for Ontario International Airport.

Challenges in Project Development

“We’re seeing a mass revival in travel, but it’s not sustainable to forecast that it will continue based on the last few years’ resurgences” said Patrick Lammerding, Deputy Executive Director of Planning & Development for Hollywood Burbank Airport. “The passenger statistics and revenue fluctuation make it particularly difficult to plan large projects.”

According to Uniting Aviation (ICAO), global passenger traffic recovered modestly in 2021, with the latest ICAO economic impact analysis of COVID-19 on civil aviation revealing that the number of passengers worldwide was 2.3 billion or 49 percent below pre-pandemic (2019) levels, up from the 60 percent drop seen in 2020.

Infrastructure Bill Propels the Aviation Industry Forward

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 will provide vital support for airports and advanced air mobility initiatives with $25 billion in new funding. This bill is one of the largest infrastructure plans in decades that will inject a total $550 billion in new spending for infrastructure in the U.S. to modernize the country’s transportation systems.

Brantley expressed excitement for the funding but fears the timing of it could push airports to send projects forward that work in the moment rather than analyzing if it’s the right for the future of the facility.

As the aviation industry navigates the delicate economy of today, airport authorities remain excited for the future and the new funding that will propel aviation forward into a more sustainable future. 

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