'There's a storm coming': Emirates boss warns airlines of a looming seismic shift in technology

  • Emirates Airline president Sir Tim Clark believes airlines need to make drastic changes to the way it treats new technology.
  • Clark is urging airlines to deconstruct their business internally and rebuild it on digital platforms.
  • Technology like blockchain could help revolutionise the airline industry.

Emirates Airline president Sir Tim Clark issued a stern warning to the airline industry on the need to embrace the seismic shift in technology that’s underway.

“Guys, there’s a storm coming and if you get don’t on it and deal with it you will perish,” Clark said in a recent interview with Business Insider.

“The company of the 2050s will bear no resemblance to the company of 2018,” he added.

The veteran aviation executive made these comments in response to a question about the role new technology will play at Emirates.

Some airlines envision a future where its planes become flying e-commerce platforms while others see technology as a means to improve operational efficiency. As for Emirates, Clark replied using the word “Revolutionary” to describe how new tech will affect his airline.

“And I don’t say that lightly,” he added.

Clark explained that by the mid-2020s or 2030s, the next generation of consumers will have been exposed to such high levels of technology on a regular basis that things like augmented reality will be commonplace.

Emirates Airbus A380EmiratesAn Emirates Airbus A380 superjumbo.

“It’s not a question about using advanced technology to increase the way you do your business like ancillary revenue streams because that’s a given,” Clark said emphatically. “It’s not a question of not knocking your companies down internally and rebuilding them on digital platforms.”

“That’s a given for us,” he added. “It’s not the case for a lot (of other airlines).”

Which means instead of treating technology as a peripheral side project, Clark urges airlines to include advanced tech as a core element of the business.

It’s time to rethink the way airlines do things

“The airline industry which has traditionally been fairly Jurassic in its thinking needs to get its act together pretty damn quickly because we are so process driven,” Clark told us.

Currently, the number processes and steps that must be taken in order to get a plane in the air to the correct destination with all of its people, cargo, and fuel is astronomical.

The airline industry is restricted by the constructs of the many systems in place that allows operations to work. And the mindset of the workforce is framed in by the limitations imposed by these systems.

“Sometimes they don’t know why they do things,” he said. “They just do it because they were told to do it.”

According to Clark, tech such as artificial intelligence or robotics can be deployed to reconstruct these processes in a manner that would create greater levels of efficiency.

The efficiencies for the airline comes through the simplification of the task and the ability to tackle more tasks with the same amount of effort, Clark told us.

“So the individuals who think they will be laid off because of AI or robotics are wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong,” the Emirates boss said. “As the wealth is created and the systems are improved we will be able to do so much more.”

Emirates sees potential in blockchains

One of the technologies that Emirates has honed in on is blockchains which are simply decentralized digital ledgers that record all transfers or transactions within a peer-to-peer network. Currently, it’s most widely associated with transactions involving cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

But Clark believes people have buried the lede when it comes blockchain.

Emirates EmiratesAn Emirates first class suite.

“Blockchain is a revolution within a revolution,” he said. It’s not about how much money people are making by mining bitcoin. Instead, the most powerful aspect of blockchain is how it’s constructed and the many applications it has beyond cryptocurrencies.

“It’s going to transform everything we do and how you and I interact with each other and things around us, ” he added.

It could soon find its way into law enforcement, healthcare, and even politics as a voting platform. However, Clark is most interested in how blockchain can be adapted for use in the airline industry. One such application is the IATA Clearing House or ICH. Simply put, its the platform where international airlines settle up their bills using a variety of currencies. The Emirates boss believes the ICH is a perfect candidate for blockchain technology.

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