Would you be prepared to be biochipped and regularly monitored in order to be able to travel more freely?
This is one of the scenarios raised in a new report on the future of the airline industry that also recommends a working group be set up to look at automation in aircraft.
The speculative report doesn’t come from the pen of a science fiction author but from the School of International Futures and was commissioned by the International Air Transport Association’s industry affairs committee.
It is designed to generate discussion and looks at a number of scenarios and the drivers that could bring them into being by 2035.
Those drivers cover a wide range of subjects from societal and technological change to environmental, economic and political developments.
The biochipping suggestion is part of a “New Frontiers” scenario where there has been a shift in power to the East and competition for economic and military power moves to new frontiers, including space.
Access to information is open and democractised but there remain problems in areas such as cybercrime and the use of data by states to conduct surveillance.
In this world, governments continually monitor the financial transaction of citizens, there is bioscreening in showers, autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence dominates frontline service.
But global instability, the emergence of “bio-bombs” and an increase in transnational cybercrime has made travellers nervous.
“People are willing to pay more for low-risk flights,’’ the report speculates. “And airlines are keen to reduce risks too – every individual now has a risk rating.
“Those who agree to be ‘biochipped’ and regularly monitored can travel more freely and AAA+ travelers get prioritized access. Since 2032, everyone in Europe has been chipped at birth.”
Although it doesn’t use the artistic names of a similar study by global booking giant Amadeus, the IATA document approaches the problem of predicting an uncertain future in a similar way.
It sees the critical uncertainties as geopolitics — including, terrorism, cyber warfare, trade and governance — and whether data will be open and connected or closed.
Three other scenarios are considered alongside “New Frontiers”: “Resource Wars”, “Sustainable Futures” and “Platforms”.
“Sustainable Futures” sees a peaceful, multi-polar world in which there is strong international governance and open access to information.
Advances in big data, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence all have a positive impact on society, innovation allows sustainability and new trade routes open up.
“Resource Wars”, arguably the darkest of the four scenarios, sees a turbulent world in which “an aggressive, nationalistic China threatens a US distracted by continued conflict”.
This scenario sees a wave of territorial disputes in the Middle east and Asia, the emergence of resource trading blocs and limits on movements between rich and poor countries.
“Data asymmetries exist between countries, and governments increasingly use data to monitor and control their citizens.,’’ the report says.
“Platforms” sets a stage in which the US and China have co-operated to open international trade and corporations play an increasing role in the economy.
A dominant elite controls data and data platforms, Africa is sidelined and many countries see a disempowered public increasingly dissatisfied with the political elite
Recommendations in the report begin with a call for continued support for bodies involved in setting global standards, such as the UN-Backed International Civil Aviation Organisation, as well as increased engagement with new institutions such as the Global Development Bank.
The report suggests IATA push for greater flexibility in routing and scheduling to allow airlines to deal with conflicts and other major disruptions.
Other recommendations include a set of emergency response guidelines and procedures that airlines could implement rapidly in turbulent times and the establishment of a global industry-wide position on data protection.
One certain to get the attention of pilots includes the establishment of working group of both manned and unmanned operators to facilitate standard-setting and information sharing.
US manufacturer Boeing said earlier this year that it would examine pilotless aircraft and test the technology in a simulator.
“Technology in self-driving cars may pave the way for more relaxed attitudes to automation,’’ the report says.
“At the same time, there will be risks around the co-existence of piloted and pilotless flights in the same airspace (a risk already present with drones).
“Technology already enables pilotless flights. Freight shipment represents an opportunity for airlines to develop cutting-edge technology without watering down their commitment to passenger safety.’’
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