TAP Express CEO Valter Fernandes used the podium at MRO Europe in Amsterdam to call for action on long aviation lead times, saying the industry has lost its edge because innovation is too slow and expensive.
Fernandes’ airline operates nine Embraer 190s and four E195s from its two main hubs at Lisbon and Oporto, providing feed for parent carrier TAP Portugal.
Delivering a keynote address, Fernandes said it is not cost-effective for small- and mid-sized airlines to tailor their own cabins, so they are reliant on the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). However, this involves high costs and long lead times, stifling innovation.
“Three years is the typical timespan that you have, between taking a decision and having it on your aircraft and flying with it,” he said, adding that this is "way too slow".
Fernandes gave the example of inflight entertainment (IFE) systems, which have a two-year lead time. “That’s way too much. When the system starts to fly, it is more or less obsolete.”
Onboard WiFi should have become standard five or six years ago, he argued.
“We’ve lost the power to surprise our customers. They don’t expect much these days. They expect the flight to be on time and that’s about it,” he said. “My main issue is how slow it is and the fact that we’re behind other industries. We’re moving along, but falling behind. People are not amazed by our product anymore.”
Fernandes showed images of aircraft cabins and galleys from 30 years ago. Aside from some new lighting solutions, he said very little has visibly changed.
“I drool over what the car industry has achieved,” he said. “We are not adapting fast enough to what today’s customers need and we have to address that quickly. Some of the hurdles of our industry are, quite bluntly, an anachronism.” He argued that modernization could come more quickly, without compromising safety.
Fernandes went on to describe aircraft-cabin design as a “complex cookie cutter,” that outwardly looks the same, however this façade conceals lots of minor variations which make life incredibly difficult for airlines. The airlines, themselves, are not blame-free. “We don’t specify exactly what we want,” he said.
To fix the situation, Fernandes called for greater standardization, with cabins that can be easily reconfigured through an aircraft’s 20-year lifespan without the need for complex engineering support. “Nobody expects a solution to last 20 years, so we need to adapt to that lifecycle,” he said.
Small- to medium-sized airlines do not have the manpower or voice to go-it-alone on this issue. Fernandes called for the formation of a focus group to tackle this innovation-blocker and he also plans to raise the issue with the Star Alliance.
“We can do this faster, but I think everyone needs to be on board. We need to create a focus group. In end, small- to medium-sized airlines with 50 aircraft or fewer have a hard time being heard,” he said.