Executive summary

Welcome to the 2017 edition of The way ahead,
Norton Rose Fulbright’s annual survey of the transport sector.

The sector is experiencing rapid and sweeping changes, driven largely by the development of new technology, new market entrants offering alternative modes of transport, and growing urban populations putting existing services under pressure. This year, we wanted to explore where aviation, rail, shipping and logistics see opportunities for growth as their industries continue to evolve.

According to our respondents, closer collaboration with other forms of transport and investment in new technology present the best opportunities for the sector over the next five years. Integration with other forms of transport services, in order to develop bespoke end-to-end passenger journeys, or tailored supply chains, is viewed as the infrastructure investment that would benefit the sector the most between now and 2022 by respondents from the rail, shipping and logistics industries. Enthusiasm for integration is more muted among aviation respondents. They, instead, are calling for additional capacity, particularly in emerging markets.

Interest in technology investment has increased significantly over the past year. A fifth of respondents view new technology as the optimal investment opportunity for their industry currently, ahead of investment in infrastructure improvements. Big data and predictive analytics are expected to be the most significant driver of change in the sector over the next five years. The ability to anticipate repairs and maintenance and to better understand and forecast consumer behaviour has the potential to provide operators with a significant competitive advantage, at a time when two thirds of respondents are expecting operators to face increasingly fierce competition.

In addition to competition, respondents warn of inadequate infrastructure and a lack of suitably qualified people, and, in the shipping industry in particular, overcapacity. Concern over the ability to recruit employees with the appropriate skills is growing, from 11 percent in 2016, rising to 16 percent this year.

Respondents are also apprehensive about the impact global political uncertainty will have on transport businesses, during a period in which the economic and foreign policies of a number of major transport markets are in the process of being reset. This, followed by a global recession, is seen as the greatest threat to the sector over the next five years.

Despite a number of challenges, respondents are generally feeling optimistic, particularly those from the aviation and rail industries. While on the whole respondents from the shipping industry remain despondent, it is encouraging to see indications that sentiment is improving.

Many thanks to those who participated in our survey. I hope that you will find useful insight in this report.