An Incomplete Review of the Train Wreck That Was 2020

By: Category: Air FreightersAirlinersAviation HistoryAviation Slowdown

The tumultuous year of 2020 has ended, leaving many dreams shattered, lives changed forever, and the aviation world a very different place than it was just one year ago. The so-called global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus has led to nationwide quarantines, mass commercial passenger reservation cancellations and corresponding airline flight eliminations – changing many fortunes in commercial airline operations. Reductions in staffing, including customer service employees, cockpit and cabin crews, and even air traffic controllers have been caused by both illness or lack of demand as commercial aviation ridership plummets. General aviation, business aviation and the air show industry have seem big impacts too, but not as bad as the airlines have.

Here are some of the changes we’ve noticed in aviation during the past year – some that were barely on our radar, if at all, while others which were expected, but expedited by the change of world events in 2020. News headlines rage about unemployment, income losses, and fear of flying and being exposed to an unseen killer virus. But, there have been silver linings and positive changes within the year too.

First of all, a big issue… the demise of passenger carrying Airbus A-380 and Boeing B-747 jumbo jets was accelerated. Being big wasn’t a great trait in 2020, as passenger loads on mainline routes dropped by upwards of 75% in most cases. Passenger flights using these less economical 4 engined jumbo jets disappeared faster than many airlines’ long range plans had targeted, due to reduced ridership. More economical twin jets have burst upon the scene in the past few years; the A-350-1000 XWB and the Boeing 787-10 became the long haul jumbos of choice for many airlines of 2020, winning with their improved economics. New versions of the smaller A-321 are now used on more long and thin-traffic routes. The Boeing 737 MAX will also be more visible on these routes this year too.

On the other hand, freighters in the B-747 and Antonov 124/225 fleets were welcomed as their volume was filled before their maximum payload weight was reached carrying lightweight personal protective equipment (PPE) from one continent to another. Passenger jets such as the B-767, A-330 and smaller Boeings and Airbuses were adapted to carry freight, sometimes with their passenger seats removed.

The U.S. military carried their fair share of medical supplies too; scanner enthusiast Daniel O. Myers wrote: “… the military did the same, throughout- CONUS and around the world. I monitored a flight of “EASY” USMC Transport Squadron (VMR) from Belle Chasse, LA to KWRI [McGuire AFB, New Jersey]. There were also REACH flights into Pease, NH in support of Boston. I’m sure there many others… “

Aviation has played an important part in expediting the movement of critically needed medical supplies, which includes new vaccines recently.

Regional airlines Compass Airlines and Trans States Airlines have shut down, many more U.S. and international airlines have filed for bankruptcy. Names include LATAM (Chile), Virgin Australia, South African Airways, Avianca (Columbia), FLyBe (U.K.), Miami Air International (U.S.) and RavnAir (Alaska) have all declared bankruptcy, and more will have been added to this list by the end of 2020. A few of these companies haven’t stopped flying yet, as alternative arrangements are being pursued.

With the cancellation of more than half of the world’s passenger flights, the shipping space for routine mail and small package – which usually were flown in the bellies of scheduled airline operations – was lost. On-line shopping depends on surface and air shipping, which led airfreight haulers such as FedEx and UPS to enforced delivery date deadlines near Christmas as the space aboard hundreds of their planes was already filled weeks before the holiday.

While passenger airlines were losing money and requesting government subsidies, the air freight business seemed to be at least holding its own.

The 50-seat Regional Jet is fast disappearing due to economics. The last MD-88s operated by Delta Airlines have been parked; American Airlines grounded their long-serving MD-80 fleet earlier. Delta has retired their earlier B-777s and British Airways and Qantas Airlines have parked their B-747s as well, to name a few of the older airliner models being pulled from service.

Hundreds of airliners were declared surplus during the year. U.S. airports such as Mojave and Victorville California, Pinal Airpark in Arizona, Alice Springs Australia, Teruel Airport in Spain, and the Kembel-Costwold Airport in the U.K. all hold acres of aircraft. Some of those airframes will fly again, but many are destined for parting-out or scrapping.

2020 really stunk. It was not an easy year as we have lost people, jobs, freedoms and sacrificed the things we like to do. I am happy to say goodbye. I am fortunate to be an essential employee of Aviation so I never stopped working as others lost their jobs. As for Air Shows, so many were cancelled, including the first one in Yuma as I disembarked a plane in Arizona. I am thankful that by August, socially distant shows began to happen and we saw some great things. It worked but I hope it is not the new normal. In 2021, I look forward to some normalcy but that will not happen right away pending mass vaccinations. I expect more early season Air Show cancellations and choose to be optimistic for improvement by late summer. By the end of 2021, we will look back, count our blessings, and hopefully, live our best lives because 2020 proved that nothing is for granted. Shawn Byers

Airshows, once the exciting gathering of aviators, aviators and airplanes, may have changed forever too. Drive-in air shows, with fewer cars parked in socially distant-sized rectangles, allowed for great viewing next to runways for flying displays, at shows like Airshow London (Ontario) and Wings Over Houston (Texas). Static displays were all but nonexistent though. This seems to be one of the few ways to continue to allow air shows to operate with crowd constraints.

From an aviation standpoint, I’m glad 2020 is over. Watching the airshows fall one by one off of the 2020 schedule was just a slow torture. Not being able to see the Blue Angels one last time in Legacy Hornet was definitely a letdown as well. My hope for 2021 is that all the performers and shows will be able to perform as scheduled with fans being able to gather once again and enjoy the roar of jets and props once more. Mike Colaner

For me, the most disappointing aspect of 2020 was so many airshows being canceled. It was also frustrating to see my local airport, Lehigh Valley International Airport, lose a large amount of the growth they have experienced in recent years in both revenue and passenger traffic as regional airlines took a huge hit in 2020. For me, the worst part of 2020 aviation was was the Snowbirds crash which cost Captain Jennifer Casey her life, especially since the Snowbirds were trying simply to conduct a goodwill tour of Canada to boost the spirits of frontline workers and people like the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds were doing with the America Strong flyovers. As I always like to be positive, the most positive aspect of 2020 for me aviation wise was being able to contribute to the Photorecon.net team with my 747 article and some photographs. I am honored to be a part of this group and have already received a lot of great feedback from many of the veteran members of this team. I’m looking forward to seeing airshows and aviation events resume in 2021 and being able to cover them as an aviation photojournalist for my own newsletter, “Distelfink Airlines”, and also continue to contribute photographs and articles to Photorecon.net and the partner sites. I am also looking forward to being able to see all my aviation photography and airshow friends in person again at events. Corey Beitler

For me, the most disappointing facet of 2020 was having air shows so close to home that had to be canceled. As the season went along, we were constantly checking the internet and watching these shows – one by one – “crash and burn.” The most frustrating was the Atlantic City, NJ beach show. In my opinion, there was no need to cancel that show, especially since Ocean City, MD, (a similar venue) successfully took place. However, looking on the bright side, we saw the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds fly together in a nationwide tribute to front-line health care workers and First Responders, On July 4th, those of us on the east coast, got to witness twenty-one high-performance military aircraft in a multi-city flyby. Both of these brought aerial events to people that would probably never attend an air show. In Newburgh, NY we attended our first ever “drive-in” air show. From that aspect, 2020 was historic and memorable. Dan Myers

On a high note, the USAF Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels flew jointly-choreographed flyovers during the North American spring months to support frontline healthcare workers early on during the pandemic, and the USAF sent other flyover missions along various routes around the 4th of July in the U.S.

The Canadian Air Forces Snowbirds began a similar series of flights under the name of Operation Inspiration, but the flybys were sadly halted after one of their jets crashed and killed Captain Jennifer Casey, their Public Affairs Officer who was a passenger in the aircraft.

Large trade shows like the 2020 Farnborough and 2021 Paris Air Show have been cancelled. The 2020 EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin was cancelled too, as was the 2020 Sun N Fun event in Florida. Already, a few 2021 air show venues have announced the cancellation of their events. For many air show buffs, not hearing the raw sounds or feeling the rumbles of engines in person has soured their thoughts about 2020, but discussions about 2021’s air show offerings have already sparked renewed interest… hope springs eternal among them!

General aviation and business flight hours haven’t been affected as much as commercial flight hours. With the cancellation of so many large-aircraft airline flights, smaller jet and prop aircraft are allowing many journeys that require critical timing and alternate destinations affordable and available. In fact, some busy markets have recovered to pre-COVID levels, or even surpassed previous years’ traffic. Charters, fractional ownership and outright purchase of business and general aviation aircraft have filled the gap when airline operators curtailed operations.

2020 will go down as a year in which anything Aviation related will not soon forget, although we may want to. As we enter 2021, we hope that all aspects of the industry including airlines, manufacturers, and airshows alike will bounce back and stabilize. It may not be the “old” normal we remember them, but in the “new” normal that we will need to get accustomed to. Scott Jankowski

The grounding saga of the Boeing B-737 MAX aircraft seems to be just about over, as the FAA and other worldwide state aviation authorities have recertified the twinjet to carry passengers again. An almost 20 month-long grounding of the type was lifted in December, 2020.

Unfortunately for me 2020 was a miserable year, one that I will never forget, as I lost both my parents to Covid-19 back in April. Coming to terms with the harsh reality I was eager to try and occupy myself with anything that could take my mind off of the loss. Thankfully there were a few events during the shortened airshow season that provided some relief for me. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the flybys honoring our hero health-care workers and first responders. Drive-in air shows of which at first I was skeptical of as far as safety and content turned out to be a much welcomed substitute for full on air shows in this challenging year where so many shows were outright cancelled. Lastly, even though the weather forced the cancellation of the Arsenal of Democracy flyby in Washington DC, the practice days leading up to the event provided a chance to reconnect with friends and get back to the hobby we all enjoy. I have hopes that we can see some return to normalcy in 2021. I do want to thank Ken Kula and Joe Kates for taking care of the business and administrative end of the site. Without your contributions none of this would be possible. Howard German

Aviation will be hard-pressed to make up for lost ground in the next few years, Boeing reports they expect a three year period before pre-COVID air traffic and air passenger levels return. IATA expects a 2024 return.

Business travelers have had to adjust to video conferencing and many find it a less-expensive and suitable alternative to business travel by air (and other means too). Just as the “new” methods of email and the Internet doomed air shuttles between the Boston-New York-Washington DC markets years ago, the COVID restrictions have shown that there are less expensive and shorter time-consuming ways to be productive today (read: work from home…). Few people foresaw the turbulence that unfolded in 2020. Could it happen again? I believe most of us will now say “never say never again”. Aviation as a whole seems to have weathered the storm, albeit in an uncomfortable manner. Some segments are improving towards reaching our old “normal” levels of activity again. Other segments will have to adapt to a new normal – whatever that will be. Ken Kula

As aviation supporters and enthusiasts, please know that we here at Photorecon.net, ClassicWarbirds.net and CivilAviationWorld.com salute you all who make aviation part of your lives, and wish you a safe and prosperous 2021!

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