Reflecting on Aviation’s Final Twelve Months of The Decade

It’s been quite the year for the aviation industry. Over the last twelve months, air travel has once again proven that it continues to be the essential tool ensuring our world remains a connected, harmonised environment. Every day, 120,000 flights departed, carrying around 12 million passengers per day, along with the US $18 billion worth of trade — but it hasn’t come without headwinds. 

At the beginning of the year came the Airbus announcement the world was bracing for. Before sunrise on cold February morning in Toulouse, Airbus declared the end date for Airbus A380 production. The company decided that from 2021, production of the world’s largest passenger jet will be terminated following a painstaking ongoing sales campaign to attempt to secure new orders from airlines around the globe. While the news of the end of A380 production pleased Airbus investors (who are in line with Airbus’ single-aisle, or efficient twin-aisle strategy), there was an overwhelming element of sadness with the realisation that the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the majestic, two-deck, whale-like jet will soon only exist as long as airlines decide to operate the existing worldwide fleet of A380s.

As the Northern Hemisphere transitioned from Winter to Spring, Boeing’s largest crisis in recent history commenced following the tragedy of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, a Boeing 737 MAX involved in a catastrophic accident shortly after take-off. The flight was the second fatal 737 MAX accident in less than five months, triggering a worldwide reaction. Country by country, the world banned the 737 MAX jet before the United States, and Federal Aviation Administration did. Shortly after, the US followed, expecting to have to ground the jet for ‘several weeks’, while simultaneously insisting it was a “safe airplane”. 2019 draws to a close with the worldwide ban on 737 MAX jets still in place. In fact, the grounding period for the troubled jet has forced Boeing to suspend production of the aircraft from the new year. Boeing’s CEO has been fired, and the company faces thousands of legal cases for its negligence in the two 737 MAX accidents. The company has suffered immense reputational damage and has been criticised by lawmakers, industry veterans, and by a large proportion of the flying public. 

Elsewhere, the world lost airlines including Jet Airways, Germania, WOW Air, Aigle Azur and Adria Airways, and overcapacity continued to drive out weaker airline industry players. At the same time, the failures of some have triggered a new wave of consolidation, and this year we’ve witnessed the International Airlines Group (IAG) — parent company to British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Level, and Vueling) — attempt to take on a larger share of the European footprint, with plans to acquire Air Europa. 

The industry also lost Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel company operating hotels, airlines, cruises & resorts, which collapsed leaving thousands of passengers stranded abroad. Thomas Cook had requested £150 million from UK Government so that it may continue operations, but it was denied as it would have set up a “moral hazard in the case of future such commercial difficulties that companies face.” The industry once again proved it’s truly ‘survival of the fittest.’

In Brazil, Embraer flew its first flight of the E175-E2 jet, but there are still no firm orders for the regional aircraft. 

Also this year, Airbus launched the A321XLR, demonstrating the quick evolution of the A321neo, which first flew in 2016. Airbus forecast over 24,000 single-aisle aircraft are required over the next 20 years, and expect an extra-long-range single-aisle jet would be a hit with customer airlines — and it’s safe to say…it already is. In the six months since Airbus officially launched its A321XLR, this extra-long-range version of the A320neo Family’s longest-fuselage aircraft has logged more than 450 orders from 20 airlines around the world. A321XLR customers range from such full-service and long-haul airlines as U.S.-based United Airlines and American Airlines, Australia’s Qantas Airways, Spain’s Iberia and Middle East Airlines of Lebanon; to more recent market entries as Vietnam’s Vietjet Air; and low-cost carriers that include Malaysia’s, AirAsia X. 

This year, efficiency was at the core of an airline’s fleet strategy more than ever before. As aircraft become more capable in terms of their overall efficiency, airlines have continued to demand increased levels of efficiency from both the aircraft manufacturers and the engine suppliers powering the jet. 2019 was the year airlines ‘put their money where their mouth is’ when demanding the efficiency and economics of a short-haul jet on aircraft with capabilities of a long-haul jet.

Brand new, state-of-the-art aircraft were delivered to airlines for the very first time over the last twelve months. I had the pleasure of joining the delivery of Japan Airlines’ first A350-900, to be used as a domestic aircraft, as well as British Airways’ first A350 (debuting the brand new ‘Club Suite’), Fiji Airways first A350-900, Air Astana’s first A321LR, and many, many more.

The environment also took centre stage in aviation’s 2019. Environmentalists held aviation responsible for its 2% contribution to global man-made emissions harder than we’ve ever seen, encouraging (and often forcing) airlines to begin carbon offsetting, committing to using sustainable alternative fuels, and significantly reducing onboard single-use plastic. Some airline CEO’s are grappling with the growing “No Flight Movement”, while others have started to ask passengers “Do you really need to take this flight?” — an unprecedented reaction from a business perspective, but an example of how the momentum of the ‘flight shaming’ movement is likely to continue to build as we enter the next decade…

Rwanda, one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, leaves 2019 ready to take on the next decade by significantly growing its aviation industry after Qatar Airways signed to acquire a 60% stake in Rwanda’s new International Airport project. Qatar will build, own 60%, and operate the new state-of-the-art airport near Kigali, which will be able to handle 7 million passengers at launch year. 

Finally,  at the United Nations special agency for aviation ‘ICAO’, Italy beat the United Arab Emirates in the all-important presidential elections. Italy’s candidate Salvatore Sciacchitano will begin his ICAO Presidential mandate on 1 January 2020, and expected focus areas include aviation’s climate change goals, ensuring the freedoms of the air for all member states, and the continued oversight of global aviation safety and security.

Personally, I have had the pleasure of meeting, working, and broadcasting with people within the aviation industry in locations all over the world. From suburbs in Canada to rural Kazakhstan, idyllic Langkawi, to fast-paced South Korea, and so many interesting, and fascinating places in between.

I’ve sat down for exclusives with industry leaders, airline CEOs, and heads of states, and I’ve spoken to and enjoyed conversation with thousands of people that share my belief that the ‘magic’ of flight is still as strong as ever as we enter the next decade of aviation, a chapter likely to define the future of flight.

It’s been a pleasure keeping you aviation-informed throughout 2019 across a variety of platforms, and best wishes to you for the new year, 2020. 

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