Irish airports were all but deserted for large parts of the year
2020 was always going to be a difficult year for aviation – but the nature and extent of the challenge has been far beyond even the most pessimistic expectations.
Aviation bosses had plenty on their ‘in’ tray in January – before Covid-19 even had an official name.
The ongoing grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max, which began in March 2019, was causing significant disruption to airlines’ route-growing and cost-cutting plans.
Despite Britain formally leaving the European Union most of the long-term consequences of Brexit remained undecided – meaning further uncertainty about how EU-UK travel would be impacted in the years ahead.
Meanwhile an ever-growing demand for sustainability – from politicians and consumers – continued to put pressure on the industry to clean up its environmental act.
However within weeks all of those issues paled into insignificance, as the coronavirus story rapidly went from Chinese curiosity to international emergency.
By March the global industry had all but shut down.
And while flight schedules expanded somewhat later in the year, they remained dramatically below the levels that would have been expected in normal circumstances for the remainder of 2020.
That created the need for some more medium-term adjustments at airlines – including Ryanair’s decision to close its Shannon and Cork bases for the winter.
Meanwhile the future of some carriers looked more precarious than ever, with Norwegian Airways ending the year on the brink after Norway’s government refused to put more money into it.
And while the roll out of Covid-19 vaccines allowed the industry to end the year with a glimmer of hope, there was no expectation of a return to normality in 2021.
Many major airlines are not forecasting a profit before 2022 – while the IATA predicts it will be 2024 before traffic volumes are back at pre-pandemic levels.
The question is how many carriers will still be around at that stage to battle for a share.