Sustainability and artificial intelligence will be among the factors driving developments in the airline industry over the next few years, Air Canada revealed at a briefing to a group of Reed & Mackay clients, from the financial services, insurance and market research sectors.

Air Canada General Manager Sales UK & Ireland, Stephen Gerrard, was invited to give the inside track on how the airline – a founding member of Star Alliance – is aiming to meet the challenges presented by these factors and how it’s delivering innovative change to help corporate travellers meet their organisation’s goals.

R&M Director Air Partnerships Richard Lindsay & Air Canada GM Sales UK & Ireland Stephen Gerrard

corporate travel trends

Air traffic recovery is fast approaching pre-pandemic levels, according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation and Air Canada has certainly witnessed this. The airline currently flies to 51 cities in Canada, 51 cities in the US and 85 cities internationally, and has just announced an expansion of services to European destinations for summer 2024, including additional flights to London Heathrow and Manchester. This is partly attributed to a recovery in corporate travel bookings over the last year, with strong business particularly from SMEs, the meetings, incentives, conference and exhibitions (MICE) market, plus the marine and entertainment sectors.

“Other trends we’re seeing include the booking window for corporate travel becoming slightly longer, as organisations look at where they can maximise cost savings,” Gerrard says. “We’re also seeing an increase in trips being combined; where once people would fly to Toronto and to New York on separate occasions, they’re now doing both visits on one trip.”

a focus on sustainability

With the briefing’s participants confirming that sustainable travel was a key priority for their organisations, Gerrard unveiled that Air Canada is aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050, and to reduce GHG emissions from ground operations by 30 per cent by 2030 and from air operations by 20 per cent by the same year.

“To further our sustainability commitments, our plans include flying a young, fuel-efficient fleet, electrifying our ground fleet, removing single-use plastics on board aircraft, recycling uniforms, duvets and blankets and investing in Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF),” Gerrard adds. “The current global SAF supply remains limited. Air Canada looks forward to working with key industry stakeholders and the Government of Canada to advance the availability and generate a meaningful supply of Canada-produced SAF for commercial aviation.” 

SAF is not the only sustainable area the airline is exploring. It currently has 30 electric hybrid aircraft from Heart Aerospace on order. Taking delivery from 2028, these planes will seat 30 passengers and initially fly up to 400km on electric/hybrid power. “Ultimately, people want to do the right thing and travel sustainably, which is likely to drive the buying decisions of the future. The airline industry continues to look at developing other aircraft technologies such as electric, hybrid or hydrogen aircraft at scale in a commercially meaningful way,” Gerrard adds.

AI’s potential

Artificial intelligence is also expected to play a significant role in reducing waste for the airline industry; technology allowing passengers to pre-order their onboard meals is currently being trialled. Plus AI will be used to augment the customer experience, from bag-tracking technology to digital tech that allows for multiple touchpoints along a traveller’s journey without showing boarding pass or government ID, all created within the airline’s app.

Reed & Mackay Senior Director, Air Partnerships, Richard Lindsay points out how travel management companies’ long-standing partnerships with airlines are integral for clients. “Close collaboration with innovative carriers like Air Canada ensures we are able to continue to deliver extraordinary service for our customers through all stages of the traveller experience,” Lindsay says.