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AirlineGeeks Year In Review: 2020

In an industry notoriously difficult in normal circumstances, aviation faced extraordinary challenges in 2020. As COVID-19 spread, the travel industry was among the hardest-hit industries as governments closed borders and businesses went virtual. As the year comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at AirlineGeeks’ most influential stories of the year. 

It is important to note that there is a lot we cannot cover in this article; if we tried to hit everything, we’d be here all day. But there are a few articles we’ve published recently that can help you look back on the year – most notably, this month we’ve published two articles on the most high-profile aircraft retirements from 2020. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking on the links attached to each.

The headlines below are listed in chronological order and relevant articles may be linked below each header, and a few honorable mentions are listed at the bottom of the article.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Delta Finalizes LATAM Stake Acquisition

In a big start to the year, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines announced it had purchased a 20% stake in LATAM Airlines. The deal, worth nearly $2 billion, has had a huge influence on flights between the United States and South America and has solidified Delta’s role in the market. The deal eventually saw LATAM leave Oneworld.

Ukranian 737 Crashes After Departing Tehran

2020’s first controversy came when Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 crashed after departing Tehran. The aircraft had just reached 8,000 feet when it appeared to explode. Though Iran initially denied the claim, it was later discovered that a missile strike had accidentally struck the jet amid an ongoing military campaign.

A Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Big Names Drop Singapore Airshow Over Coronavirus Fears

This article is most notable for being our first on the coronavirus pandemic, back before anyone knew what it would become. COMAC, along with nine other aircraft manufacturers, were denied entry to the event, as China was the epicenter of the outbreak at the time. Textron, Gulfstream and Bombardier all also withdrew from the airshow.

Cathay Pacific Suspends 90 Percent of Flights to Mainland China

Soon after the Singapore Airshow announcements, Cathay Pacific announced it was halting most of its flights to mainland China. This was the first major flight cancelation of the pandemic and just a hint of what was to come.

Alaska Airlines Intends to Join Oneworld by 2021

Not long after LATAM announced its departure, Alaska Airlines revealed plans to join the oneworld alliance alongside a partnership with American Airlines. At the airline’s announcement, it would become the latest oneworld airline at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, alongside British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. Fellow alliance member Qatar Airways would announce service to Seattle at the end of the year along with an enhanced partnership with Alaska.

An Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

U.K. Regional Carrier Flybe Falls Into Administration

Flybe became the first airline casualty of the pandemic in early March. The airline was already struggling, but a bid to purchase the airline seemed to have saved it, until the pandemic hit. With the sudden dropoff in passenger numbers, Flybe no longer had the cash it needed to sustain itself, causing a ripple effect across the entire U.K. – especially at airports where Flybe was by far the largest, if not the only, airline offering regular flights.

A Flybe Q400 aircraft (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

Travel Suspended Between U.S. and 26 European Countries

This was the decision that forced many people to realize just how serious the pandemic really was. U.S. President Donal Trump, in a speech from the oval office, banned foreign nationals from many European countries from entering the U.S. Airlines were forced to cut most if not all of their flights, and ties between two of the most interconnected regions in the world were slashed.

U.S. Airlines Agree to Bailout Terms, Receive Billions from Treasury Department

When the U.S. Government passed its CARES Act, it included billions of dollars for airlines to keep them afloat. Among the terms were a requirement to keep all workers employed through the end of September and to continue serving destinations at least once daily.

Airbus Reaches A220 Milestone With New U.S. Production Facility

The Airbus A220 has possibly been among the biggest winners in 2020. As airlines have turned to consolidate their fleets with efficient new planes, the A220 has become the perfect aircraft in size and efficiency for airlines to keep flying. Airbus added a new A220 production line at its Mobile, Alabama plant to make production for and delivery to U.S. carriers easy.

A Delta A220-100 on final approach. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Boeing Cuts 12,000 U.S. Jobs Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

In May, Boeing announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs – about 10% of its workforce worldwide – by the end of 2020. As aircraft deliveries plummeted during the pandemic, Boeing needed to cut costs, and eventually, all other measures ran dry. Still, Boeing noted that it could keep many staff because its defense branch was strong.

British Airways Threatens to Fire and Re-Hire Pilots on New Contracts

Among the biggest controversies of the year, British Airways threatened to fire all of its pilots and re-hire them under new contracts. The move came as the pilots’ union was negotiating terms with the airline as the airline looked to cut costs amid the pandemic. British Airways had previously announced plans to cut as much as 30% of its entire workforce.

Pilots and Controller Blamed for Pakistani A320 Crash

Pilot distraction and apathy as well as controller negligence were blamed for the crash of Pakistan International Airlines flight 8303, which crashed while on approach to Karachi Airport. Reviews of the A320’s cockpit voice recorders noted that the pilots were unfocused while approaching the airport, ignoring critical mistakes despite warnings from ATC and cockpit alarms. It was later found that many Pakistani pilots hold fraudulent licenses, having either forged their certificates or cheated on exams. The controller in Karachi tower handling the flight was equally blamed for failing to relay critical information to pilots as they attempted a go-around.

A PIA A320 aircraft (Photo: Aasif Azaan / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0))

JetBlue Will Not Furlough Pilots Until 2021, Delta Announces Furloughs Beginning Oct. 1

Though at the time CARES Act funding would have allowed it to furlough employees on Oct. 1, in July jetBlue became the first major U.S. airline to defer furloughs. It reached an agreement with its pilots union to keep all pilots on payroll until at least May 1, 2021. Meanwhile, Delta joined a growing number of legacy airlines preparing to furlough workers after the bill expired.

Manistee Airport Backs EAS Provider Amid Controversy

Essential Air Service (EAS) is more essential now than ever for keeping remote communities connected to the outside world. Over the summer, controversy surrounded the EAS contract in Manistee, MI when American Airlines wrote a letter in support of Cape Air. Boutique Air, another carrier bidding for the service, complained to the U.S. Department of Transportation, saying they were the preferred carrier for the route and that American was illegally interfering in the bidding process. Cape Air ended up receiving the contract.

Southwest Warns of Airline’s First Round of Furloughs Amid Pandemic

Southwest Airlines has never involuntarily laid off employees in its history, but, before the government passed an updated funding bill at the last minute in December, there was a chance they would. This was the latest out-of-the-ordinary news that highlighted just how unprecedented the coronavirus pandemic is.

Virgin Atlantic Declares Bankruptcy as Part of Restructuring

Virgin Atlantic became among the biggest brands to declare bankruptcy due to the coronavirus pandemic in August. Soon after announcing plans to lay off thousands of workers and retire its 747, Virgin was forced to apply to the government for funding. The airline maintained it has a sound business model and plans to continue operating.

Looking down at a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-600 at Washington Dulles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ryan Ewing)

Inside Look: How an Airliner is Returned to Service After Being in Storage

AirlineGeeks traveled to Pinal Air Park in Marana, Ariz. as airlines began preparing to take jets out of storage along with slow-but-steady rises in air traffic. We got an inside look at how airlines maintain their jets while in storage, including touring progressive maintenance plans and taking a look at planes left unmaintained until preparing to return.

ExpressJet to End Operations On Sept. 30

ExpressJet was the largest U.S. casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. The regional carrier, which had 2,500 staff and over 100 aircraft when it shut down, saw its contract with United Airlines axed as a cost-cutting measure during the pandemic. The airline was supposedly looking for ways to stay in business, but no plans have yet been released.

An ExpressJet E145. The regional carrier’s contract with United Airlines is being terminated. (Photo: Timothy Powaleny via Creative Commons)

Analysis: U.S. Airlines Drop Change Fees

Many U.S. airlines have charged fees for changing flights since the 2008 financial crisis – the fees were a way for the airlines to make extra money during an albeit milder crisis. Now, as an incentive to get people flying again, United, American and Delta all announced, within 24 hours of each other, that they would drop change fees on all domestic flights with some exceptions based on routing.

El Al Operates Historic Flight Over Saudi Arabia Following Peace Agreement

After a peace deal was struck between Israel and several of its neighbors, El Al Israel Airlines flew a historic flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi through Saudi Arabian airspace for the first time since 1972. Saudi Arabia had previously closed its airspace to all Israeli air traffic, and El Al had to reroute all eastbound traffic around many neighbors – a detour that would double flight times on many shorter routes.

Ground service employees unload the El Al retro jet in San Antonio. (Photo: San Antonio Airport)

Essential Air Service: What It Is and Why It’s Needed

We’ve spent a lot of time this year looking at Essential Air Service articles. This one gives an excellent review of how essential these government-subsidized routes can really be.

Final A380 Completes Production

The A380 era saw the beginning of the end this fall when Airbus completed production on its final A380 Superjumbo. The program had been struggling for years and was ultimately killed by Emirates’ decision not to expand an order for the type as well as the coronavirus pandemic. This news, coupled with Boeing’s decision to stop passenger 747 production soon after, mark a growing trend away from big planes and closer to smaller, more efficient aircraft that are easier to fill, cheaper to operate and more flexible.

An Emirates A380 at LAX (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Breeze Raises $83 Million Ahead of 2021 Launch

Eyes have been on the newest project of jetBlue and Azul founder David Neeleman. In October, the new carrier, Breeze, announced it had raised over $80 million to help it launch in 2021. It will start operations with Embraer aircraft from Azul before transitioning to new Airbus A220 jets it has on order.

Amtrak 2035: Does Amtrak Finally Have a Strong Plan Against Airlines?

The United States has long been notorious for having one of the worst national rail networks among developed nations. Now, it is positioning itself to challenge airlines as a viable form of transportation. We took a look at where Amtrak may be able to challenge airlines and the extent to which such is possible.

Finding Pandemic Success In the Middle of the Amazon

AirlineGeeks took a look at the role aviation plays in many remote Amazonian communities. Often cut off from other civilizations by nearly-impassible terrain, aviation can cut down travel times from days to hours. These flights are vital to maintaining communities by bringing supplies and people in and out and by connecting remote communities to the world.

PR-MPW is unloaded in Eirunepé, Amazonas. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

FAA Green Lights Boeing 737 MAX

After a 20-month-long grounding and countless hardware and software changes, the FAA became the first global regulator to reapprove the Boeing 737 MAX for regular commercial services. Brazil’s regulator was soon to follow, and the EASA is expected to follow suit in early 2021. Soon after, Alaska Airlines announced it would lease 13 of the type.

The FAA has released its recommendations for 737 MAX updates after over 18 months of study and fixes by Boeing.
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

United Airlines Begins Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Charter Flights

With coronavirus vaccine approval imminent, United Airlines began flying doses between Chicago and Brussels. This served as a light at the end of a very long tunnel – as vaccines are expected to be available en masse by summer 2021, airlines may begin preparing for substantial demand rebounds by the end of the year.

A United 777-300ER touching down at Paine Field after a test flight. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

Brazil’s GOL Slated To Be First Airline With Commercial 737 MAX Flights

Brazil’s GOL Airlines became the first airline to resume flights with the troubled Boeing 737 MAX after the type was recertified. The trip went on without incident. AirlineGeeks was onboard when American Airlines followed soon after as the first U.S. carrier to fly the jet again.

Despite a tough year for aviation, AirlineGeeks published over 1,100 articles giving readers a global view on the latest developments within the industry and 400 articles detailing various impacts on the industry by COVID-19. As we take off into a new year, we look forward to continuing to provide the latest aviation news and can’t wait to show you what we have in store for 2021!

Honorable Mentions:

Air France Announces Immediate Retirement of A380 Fleet

Aeromexico Chooses Chapter 11 Restructuring as COVID Battle Rages On

Qantas Will Pay Tribute to Its 747s with Farewell Flights

Azul Makes World’s First E-Jet Cargo Conversion

Delta Remains Confident In Business Travel Rebound

Ethiopian Eyeing Stakes in South African Airways

FAA Proposes Extension of Slot Relief

Taking off During a Pandemic: Nolinor President Discusses New Airline

TSA Screens Record One Million Passengers in One Day

Ravn Alaska Returns to the Sky After Shutdown

Comac C919 Enters Final Testing Phase

Ryanair Orders an Additional 75 Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft

Author

  • John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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