We’ve now entered the new year. It’s time to reflect on the past twelve months and observe key events which shaped global aviation in 2019.
Aviation is a dynamic international industry, with thousands of factors affecting the operations of large and small airlines, airports, pilots, flight crew, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and many more players. 2019 in aviation saw large-scale global aviation projects, mergers, business deals, new beginnings, new opportunities and new endings.
Below, we’ll take a look at some of the key events that made their mark in 2019, the year that closed the decade, and the events that formed an integral part of the aviation landscape.
In it for the long haul: Sydney to London and New York flights
In October and November 2019, Australian airline Qantas continued its ‘Project Sunrise’ ventures by launching two of the longest test flights in aviation history.
From 18-20 October, Qantas flew a non-stop 19-hour flight from New to York to Sydney. The experimental journey in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner took off from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport with 50 passengers, who undertook a range of medical tests about a week before commencing the flight. It then safely touched down at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport.
The plane flew about 16,200 kilometres and landed with about 70 minutes of petrol still remaining. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce called the event a “historic moment for Australian aviation and a really historic moment for world aviation”.
In November 2019, Qantas flight QF7879 broke another record by flying non-stop from London to Sydney (a huge 17,800 kilometres), a journey which lasted just over 19 hours. Taking off at London’s Heathrow Airport on 14 November, it landed in Sydney after experiencing two sunrises. Whilst the service is not available to passengers quite yet, it’s expected to reach a regular schedule by 2022 or 2023.
But work will need to be done in order to ensure that such flights adequately take into account the fatigue levels of pilots, who’ve expressed concerns that flying non-stop for 19 hours poses a great risk to aviation safety.
Just before the year came to a close, Qantas announced that they would select the Airbus A350-1000 (over the rival Boeing B777-200) for its Project Sunrise operations. The Airbus aircraft had indeed been a promising contender. No orders have yet been placed but negotiations over contract terms will soon commence.
Boeing 737 Max 8 Crisis: Inherent Design Flaws with the Max
One of the most talked about events in 2019 was the tragic March 2019 air accident in Ethiopia, when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed near Addis Ababa killing all 157 people on board. The aircraft that crashed was a Boeing 737 Max 8, which was also the model that crashed in the 2018 Lion Air disaster.
Following the Ethiopian disaster, the 737 Max 8 was the subject of a worldwide grounding as scores of airlines took their Max 8s out of the sky. The Chinese aviation regulator ordered the Max 8 to be grounded, as did Australia, Britain, the European Union and, eventually, the United States.
It soon became apparent that the device that looked at least partially responsible for the crashes was the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a device that acted as an automatic flight control system. It would instruct the aircraft to point downward in circumstances when pilots weren’t given all the proper information.
The 737 Max 8 crisis gave rise to swathe of legal issues, ranging from passenger lawsuits and pilot class actions to shareholder claims and claims from airlines who had placed orders for the aircraft. Court hearings commenced and several investigations were launched into Boeing as well.
Boeing hopes for their Max 8 to fly again by the New Year, but time will tell if this eventuates.
End of the Airbus A380
Airbus announced that they would cease production of the much-loved A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world. This was a result of disappointing sales levels and global airline Emirates reducing their orders for the beast of an aircraft.
Despite the company’s best efforts, Airbus’ then CEO Tom Enders said that there “no basis” to sustain production with “no substantial A380 backlog”. Large international airlines are now shifting their focus on smaller and lighter wide-body aircraft which operate more efficiently.
Emirates did however finalise a deal at the November 2019 Dubai Air Show to purchase fifty A350-900s from Airbus.
Opening of the Jewel Changi Airport
The most beautiful airport in the world, as it is called by many, stunned the world when Singapore’s Jewel Changi Airport opened in April 2019 after four years of construction.
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.
The airport features an exterior the shape of a massive donut, framed in steel and glass. Inside is a huge space of 135,700 square metres which connects three of the airport’s four terminals.
What is most amazing about the airport is the 40 metre tall ‘HSBC Rain Vortex’ (pictured), which flows bang in the middle of the Jewel. Some are calling it Earth’s tallest indoor waterfall.
The airport is so beautiful that Singapore was forced to introduce fines of up to AUD$20,577 (or two years in jail) for anybody purchasing airline tickets without intending to fly. People have been purchasing tickets and forging boarding passes just so that they could spend long periods of time in the airport.
Qantas the world’s safest airline
For the effectively seventh year in a row, Qantas took the cake for being the world’s safest airline in 2019. The factors taken into account include audits from aviation authorities, crash records, the age of the airline’s fleet, pilot training, safety culture, financial status and so on. Serious incidents are looked at, but not minor incidents.
The safety ranking was provided by AirlineRatings.com, which closely monitors over 400 airlines around the world and produces an airline safety list. Also making the list of top 20 safest airlines were Air New Zealand, American Airlines, Emirates, Qatar, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin, Lufthansa and KLM.
Design and construction of new airports
Around the world we are seeing the design and construction of many airports.
In September 2019, we witnessed the opening of China’s “starfish” airport, Beijing Daxing International Airport. This airport cost around AUD$16.5 billion to build and extends to about 700,000 square metres. The airport intends to take some pressure of Beijing’s Capital International Airport, which is the second busiest airport in the world according to the Airport Council.
We also saw the beginning of the construction of a brand new international airport in Peru, right near the legendary Machu Picchu. The construction intends to make Peru’s Sacred Valley more accessible to those who wish to visit. However, the decision to build the airport generated a significant amount of controversy as many believe it would ruin, or even destroy, the surrounding landscape.
Turkey also impressed us with the opening of a new international airport in Istanbul. It’s being called Europe’s largest and most technologically advanced airport and is said to become the world’s largest airport. It spans a massive 760 million square kilometers and has a capacity for 90 million passengers per year. With Turkey being a prime destination for tourists now, it’s no surprise the country is making such a large investment in its airport sector.
Delay of the Boeing 777X but a possible 767X
U.S.-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing was hoping to shine with the release of its Boeing 777X aircraft but setbacks unfortunately meant they had to delay it before unveiling it. Following problems with its GE9X engines and then its fuselage, the aircraft was finally unveiled only to its employees.
It was anticlimactic moment, given that Boeing had a tough 2019 with its focus being on resolving its Max 8 crisis.
But 2019 also saw some details for the potential release of a new Boeing 767, called the ‘767X’. The aircraft would carry much larger GEnx engines and feature new taller landing gear. It will potentially compete with Airbus’ new A321XLR and A330neo, and might be Boeing’s contribution to the ‘middle of the market’.
The Aviation Safety Network reported a death count of 283 in 2019, with 20 deadly air accidents. There were fewer amounts of deaths, but more fatal accidents. More than half of air accident deaths was caused by one incident – the Ethiopian Airline crash that was discussed above.
But, the number of aircraft accidents causing deaths did jump up to 20, which is a 30 per cent increase from the five-year average being 14. More than 50 per cent of the accidents that occurred this year also occurred on the North American continent.
There were some important anniversaries to mark in 2019 in the world of aviation.
2019 marks exactly 100 years of transatlantic flights, with the first being the journey of John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown in June 1919.
They flew a Vickers Vimy bomber aircraft from Newfoundland to Ireland, and were awarded a prize by Winston Churchill (who was the Secretary of State for Air at the time) for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in less than 72 hours.
2019 also marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings. On 20 July, 1969, NASA astronauts landed on the moon providing one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.
2019 marked fifty years of Airbus. In May 1969, the government of West Germany and France formed an agreement to build a new airliner (the Airbus A300) that would be Earth’s very first wide-body twin engine airliner. Today, that model has turned out to be one of most popular types of models for airlines.
In 2019, we also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Concorde. The Concorde’s first flight showed the world that supersonic flight was a real possibility.
It’s been a fascinating journey for aviation in 2019. Our staff at Avlaw Aviation Consulting wish all our clients and friends a happy and safe 2020.