LONDON – 2020. What a year. From what was expected to be an incredible 12 months for the industry turned into a storm that should have been expected. 

This pandemic has been significantly strong in nature, enabling at one point a complete global shutdown of flights and operations. 

But as 2020 is over, thankfully, the focus on the industry now is to look towards 2021 and the Air Odyssey that could be as we try to move on from this pandemic.

United Airlines staff. Photo: UA

What is Needed from the Industry?

As I stated in my open letter to the industry earlier last month, the continued community-like spirit of the industry needs to be followed going into this new year, as we are still not out of the woods just yet.

And this is because COVID-19 does not consider the emotive or the destructive side to its havoc. The job losses, the death, the economic disparity and more. While a second stimulus package has been approved in the US, it only covers payroll until March.

Airlines, airports, manufacturers and those in the supply chain need to continue pushing for government support, especially with the industry providing around US$3.5tn in economic worth to global economies every year, amounting to 4.1% of global Gross Domestic Product. 

If we take a step back and do not apply such pressure on governments around the world, then the last decade of growth and development will all be for nothing. 

A flydubai airliner lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel on November 26, 2020. Photo: © Reuters / Emil Salman / Pool.

What Will 2021 Bring to the Industry?

Recovery. 2021 will bring the start of this process, as airlines will slowly and gradually restart operations to destinations it had served before the start of the pandemic.

As there is no roadmap for network planning because of the lack of insight into consumer confidence at the moment, airlines will have to apply a trial and error approach to such demand patterns in order to get the right set of profitable routes implemented.

So there will continue to be a level of uncertainty in 2021, which will place a lot of discomfort and volatility into the industry. 

But with that, at least those in aviation know that we are slowly beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially with the development of vaccines, travel corridors and other elements to finally combat this virus. 

A320neo landing. Photo: Airbus

A Level of Confidence ahead

With the likes of Airbus announcing that production rates will not drop during this pandemic, that expresses a sign of positivity that it is not going to hamper any efforts to make deliveries occur on time.

Apart from Emirates’ (EK) recent Boeing 777X move, the time of delivery deferrals appears to have passed for now, meaning that airlines remain ready to receive its new fleets, reflecting on a fleet renewal that will perform better for the environment. 

On the airline front, it appears that we have had the worst of the job cuts for now, with there not being many recent announcements since. And that is a step in the right direction for now. This could reflect a curve in redundancies to job offers as the industry recovers.

For airports across the globe, expansion programs are still going ahead, regardless of such delays as it is all about the long-term thinking, especially as more destinations are being connected on a yearly basis. 

So, it is the long-term thinking of the industry that is implementing the level of confidence that is needed to get everything back in the skies. 

Boeing 737 MAX 9. Photo: Paul Weatherman. (PRNewsfoto/Boeing)

Return of the MAX

With the Boeing 737 MAX flying again globally as we turn a new year, this is also a chance for the American side of the industry to make amends, based on the crises in Indonesia and Ethiopia two years ago, which killed 346 people. 

As Jon Ostrower at The Air Current says, Boeing should be using the DC-10 model to learn from its mistakes and will no doubt work hard enough to ensure that safety is not compromised under any circumstances.

With the MAX being a larger program and with a bigger order-book than that of the DC-10’s, it puts a lot at stake because if the same mistake is made again, then it will be the end of that program. And that is something that cannot be risked, especially in this volatile period. 

But the fact that it has taken over 20 months to get to the recertification process, compared to the 37 days with the DC-10, speaks strength and confidence over safety going into the future. 

Photo: Staff


In my opinion, I remain confident going into the New Year. As we now enter 2021, 2020 will be the year that the industry will want to forget. And rightly so. 

The key thing to making 2021 more of a success than last year was is how the industry adapts to changes, and whether it adapts quickly enough. Pressure will be on airlines to get their modeling for profitability as accurate as possible to remain afloat for another 12 months. 

But for now, like I say in plenty of these articles, all we can do for now is sit back and anxiously wait to see what the this year will throw at us. 

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