2019 in review: July to December

The second part of our review of 2019 features the demise of Thomas Cook; World Routes 2019 in Adelaide: Delta's deal with LATAM; and Wizz Air's plans to launch an airline in the United Arab Emirates.

Routesonline recounts some of the biggest news stories making the headlines in 2019. Part two covers July to December.

2019 in review: January to June

July

Routes Silk Road 2019 took place in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, attracting a host of the most senior figures in the aviation industry from across Asia and Europe. Georgia National Tourism Administration was named overall winner at the Routes Silk Road 2019 Awards, with the organisation being recognised for their commitment to a robust route development strategy that has been a significant area of focus for the team over the last three years. 

Full-service carrier Vistara revealed that its first international flights would be to Singapore, filling a gap in the market left by Jet Airways. “We’re excited to start with Singapore as our first international destination, which we see as a very important market given the opportunities it presents for corporate, business as well as leisure travel,” Vistara chief executive Leslie Thng said.

EVA Air unveiled plans to open its first new route to Europe in the last 20 years. Milan, which will host World Routes 2020, will become the airline’s fifth destination in Europe alongside Amsterdam, London Heathrow, Paris CDG and Vienna. “Adding a top-quality carrier like EVA Air to our airline roll call at Malpensa is a real coup for us,” said Andrea Tucci, VP aviation business development at SEA.

Air France-KLM placed a firm order for 60 A220-300s, with 30 options and 30 acquisition rights, which will gradually replace Air France's A318 and A319 fleet. The first aircraft, the former Bombardier C Series, should be delivered in September 2021.  The group also confirmed that its remaining A380s will leave the Air France fleet by 2022.

Uganda’s new flag carrier was awarded an air operator’s certificate, paving the way for commercial service to begin in August. Uganda Airlines said its first routes would link Entebbe International Airport with Nairobi, Dar-es Salaam, Mogadishu, Kilimanjaro, Mombasa, Bujumbura and Juba. Uganda had been without a national airline since a previous incarnation of Uganda Airlines collapsed in 2001. 

August

American Airlines announced plans to open flights to Morocco in 2020, which will become its first route to Africa. The Oneworld member will launch a three-weekly service between Philadelphia and Casablanca from 4 June on board Boeing 757 aircraft. The move to open a Casablanca service comes as Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan national carrier, prepares to join Oneworld. Vasu Raja, American’s vice president for planning, said: “Royal Air Maroc operates a hub in Casablanca and we envisage they will develop it into a connecting hub, enabling them to connect all of Africa to the US.”

After securing new routes to points in Asia and North America, Budapest Airport’s chief commercial officer Kam Jandu told Routesonline the airport's sights are “firmly set” on adding more Chinese markets. “The air demand between China and Hungary was around 190,000 in 2018, which represented an increase of 18 percent versus the previous year,” he said. “Shanghai alone grew by 20 percent in each of the last four years and will exceed 90,000 passengers this year.”

Scandinavian carrier Norwegian said it was ending flights between Ireland and North America from September, blaming the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX for making the routes “no longer commercially viable”. Matthew Wood, senior vice president commercial long-haul and new markets at Norwegian, said: “As the airline moves from growth to profitability, we have conducted a comprehensive review of our transatlantic operations between North America and Ireland and concluded that these routes are no longer commercially viable considering the circumstances.” 

September

Budapest Airport was crowned the overall winner of the World Routes Awards 2019. Other winners at the prestigious ceremony included Wilco Sweijen from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, who took home the Individual Leadership Award. The 25th World Routes took place in Adelaide, Australia, attracting delegates from across the globe. Speakers at the event included airBaltic chief executive Martin Gauss and Jaan Albrecht, chief executive of Saudia. Revisit all the news and images from World Routes on our live blog.

#WorldRoutes highlight video - Day 2

#WorldRoutes day 2 was filled with lots of productive meetings and stand activities from the exhibition. Watch all the highlights here.

Posted by Routesonline on Monday, September 23, 2019

As Viva Aerobus prepared to launch its 100th domestic route, the ultra-low-cost carrier’s Fernando Estrada told Routesonline why the Mexican airline is ideally positioned to achieve further profitable growth despite the intense competition in its home market. “The Mexican domestic market is one of the most competitive I’ve ever seen so it is very tough,” says Estrada. “But the potential of the market is huge: take into consideration that there are millions of bus passengers doing rides that could be done in aircraft.”

Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest holiday company, ceased trading with immediate effect after last-ditch talks to save the UK business failed. Chief executive Peter Fankhauser said the collapse was a "matter of profound regret". “This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world,” he added. The UK government asked the UK Civil Aviation Authority to launch a repatriation programme. There were more than 150,000 Thomas Cook customers abroad, almost twice the number that were repatriated following the failure of Monarch two years ago. 

With more than 14.1 million passengers flying between the destinations in 2018, the route between Seoul's Gimpo Airport (GMP) and Jeju (CJU) off the coast of the Korean Peninsula remains the busiest on earth, research by Routesonline found. The 450 km domestic route attracted a total of 14,107,414 passengers during the year, representing a rise of 4.8 percent compared with the previous 12 months. However, this was slower than the 9.4 percent growth enjoyed in 2017.

Delta Air Lines agreed to spend $1.9bn for a 20 percent stake in Chile’s LATAM Airlines Group, an agreement described as a “transformative” that will give the airlines a leading position in five of the top six Latin American markets from the US. The move came as a bitter blow for rival American Airlines, which had been pursuing an anti-trust immunised joint venture with LATAM. As a result of Delta’s planned investment in LATAM, it plans to sell its 9 percent stake in Brazilian carrier Gol Linhas Aereas. LATAM, meanwhile, will leave the Oneworld alliance.

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October

Ukraine’s government laid out an action plan to grow the share of low-cost routes in the country and create conditions for a 60 percent increase in total passenger traffic over the next five years. The plan proposes that “much attention” will be paid to the development of low-cost routes between now and 2024. 

National carrier Air India announced it was expanding service to Europe with the resumption of flights between Amritsar and London. The Star Alliance member last served London from Amritsar, a city in the north west of India, in October 2010 when it operated a four-weekly service to Heathrow Airport using Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

Emirates said it remains confident that its inaugural route to Mexico will open in December despite a ruling by a Mexican court blocking its flights to the country. The intended route will operate via Barcelona in Spain as the high altitude of Mexico City means it cannot fly to Dubai non-stop. However, a Mexican federal judge has ruled that an existing air services agreement between Mexico and United Arab Emirates did not meet proper legal requirements. The case followed a complaint by Aeroméxico, which is vehemently opposed to Emirates’ plans. 

Air France-KLM and China Eastern's joint venture is to be enlarged to include Virgin Atlantic. As well as the new partnership, it was confirmed that regional airline Flybe, which was acquired earlier this year by a consortium that includes Virgin Atlantic, will re-brand as Virgin Connect.

Norwegian and JetBlue signed a letter of intent to form an interline agreement, enabling for a single booking for connecting flights between the US and Europe. The partnership, which is expected to launch in early summer 2020, will connect about 60 US and almost 40 Caribbean and Latin American cities to Norwegian’s network in New York, Boston and Fort Lauderdale. From there the Scandinavian carrier serves more than 20 European destinations.

After almost 40 years linking Auckland with London via Los Angeles, Air New Zealand confirmed it was ending the route in favour of launching a non-stop service between its home hub and New York. The Star Alliance member said “market dynamics” have affected performance in recent years and so it has decided to focus on more profitable routes.

November

Qatar Airways signed a one-way codeshare agreement with low-cost carrier IndiGo designed to provide feed from the fast-growing Indian market to the Oneworld member’s network, as well offering more seats to India. “We are extremely proud to secure this strategic partnership with IndiGo, the largest airline in one of the world’s fastest growing aviation markets,” said Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways. 

After being denied in its quest to form a joint venture with LATAM Airlines Group and American Airlines – and then seeing rival Delta Air Lines take a stake in LATAM – International Airlines Group is strengthening its position on transatlantic services to South America with the acquisition of Air Europa. Routesonline looked at the current state of play on Europe – Latin America routes.

Finnair plans to further strengthen its position in the Europe – Asia market by increasing frequencies on existing routes from Helsinki to Asian megacities, according to president and chief executive Topi Manner. Speaking at the carrier’s annual Capital Markets Day, Manner said the airline has found “a good space” between much larger operators and low-cost carriers, and now plans to “double down” on this connecting strategy. 

December

Norwegian agreed to sell its Argentinian subsidiary to JetSMART, the ultra-low-cost carrier founded less than three years ago by private equity firm Indigo Partners. Norwegian’s acting chief executive and chief financial officer Geir Karlsen said the sale was a necessary step to help return the Scandinavian airline to profitability. “Attaining satisfactory profitability for a relatively small domestic operation has proved difficult to achieve, given the overall situation in the country,” he added.

Cape Town Air Access (CTAA) was announced as the overall winner of the Routes Africa 2019 Awards, the second year in a row it has won the title. Routes Africa 2019 took place in Mombasa, Kenya, attracting 250 senior delegates from across the continent. Raphael Kuuchi, vice president of Africa at IATA, said air transport in Africa supports 6.2 million jobs and $55.8bn in GDP, saying that the market is projected to grow at a rate of 4.9 percent annually for international traffic over the next 20 years.

Hungarian ultra-low-cost carrier Wizz Air unveiled plans to begin Armenia operations from April 2020, launching routes from the country’s capital Yerevan to Vienna and Vilnius. The carrier has also reached agreement in principle with Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company (ADDH) to launch an airline in the United Arab Emirates. It is intended that Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will be formed via a joint venture, and operations are expected to launch in the second half of 2020.


World Routes 2020

The 26th World Route Development Forum
Milan, Italy  5 - 8 September 2020

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