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Records, boycotts and mega-airports: What to take away from aviation in 2019

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Records, boycotts and mega-airports: What to take away from aviation in 2019
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AP/Michael Probst - Michael Probst
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For the aviation sector, the past twelve months have been filled with highs and lows from record passenger numbers and the opening of new mega-airports to criticism over rising emissions and the collapse of numerous airlines.

Euronews recaps the year that was in aviation.

Airlines woes

It was a tough year for airlines with 25 going under globally. In Europe, the companies that folded their wings include Germania, Flybmi, WOW, Aigle Azur, XL Airways, Adria, Astra and last but not least Thomas Cook.

The collapse of the 150-year old British travel operator triggered the largest peacetime repatriation operation in the country's history and had severe repercussions on the tourism sector in some countries with hotels and resorts closing.

Boeing v Airbus

The world's two largest aircraft-makers also ran into strong headwinds in 2019.

Boeing saw its 737 MAX aircraft grounded in March with aviation regulators worldwide citing safety reasons following two deadly crashes involving the aircraft.

On March 10, an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed just minutes after take-off, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. Five months earlier, a Lion Air flight crashed in the Java Sea, claiming the lives of all 189 people on board.

The aircraft's faulty flight-control system (MCAS) has been cited in preliminary reports into both accidents.

The US manufacturer announced earlier this month that it will suspend production of the 737 MAX in January.

Over in Europe, Airbus also suffered a setback, announcing in February that it would stop production of its A380 model in 2021. It came as Emirates, the plane's biggest customer, reduced its order by 39 aircraft.

The A380 is the world's largest passenger airliner and its size may be the reason the European manufacturer is shutting down production as sales of very large aircraft — of more than 400 seats — are slowing down.

More flights than ever

But it wasn't all doom and gloom for the sector as several records were broken attesting to its health.

A record 225,000 planes took to the sky on July 24, the biggest amount ever recorded on a single day, according to flight-tracking service FlightRadar24.

Passenger numbers also continued their seemingly inexorable increase, rising 3.6% year-on-year in the first six months of 2019, according to the Airports Council International World.

Passenger numbers are estimated to have reached 8.8 billion in 2018 and will grow to nearly 21 billion in 2040.

Longest flight

Australian airline Qantas also broke a record in October by successfully completing the longest non-stop passenger flight.

The New York to Sydney flight landed after 19 hours 16 minutes in the air, having flown 16,200 kilometres.

To achieve the feat, Qantas's 787-9 aircraft took off with maximum fuel and a restricted passenger and baggage load as well as no cargo. Only 50 passengers and crew were on board.

"What's already clear is how much time you can save. Our regular, one-stop New York to Sydney service took off three hours before our direct flight but we arrived a few minutes ahead of it, meaning we saved a significant amount of travel time by not having to stop," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement at the time.

Emissions rising

European Commission figures compiled by the Brussels-based Transport & Environment (T&E) research group found that for the first time ever, an airline has made it into the EU's top ten biggest polluters.

With its 9.9 megatonnes of CO2 emitted in 2018, Irish low-cost airline Ryanair joined the likes of coal-fired power plants on the infamous list.

T&E also flagged that contrary to other emission-trading sectors, airlines' emissions have been rising.

Aviation accounts for slightly over 2% of global greenhouse gas amissions.

Several environmental initiatives have sprung up to tackle the sector's growing emissions' problem.

The civil disobedience movement Extinction Rebellion has targeted airports across the world. In the UK, it has organised sit-ins in Heathrow and London City Airports, calling on people to #StayGrounded.

"Flight Free 2020" is another initiative aiming to reduce air travel which argues that "to refrain from flying is one of the most powerful ways we as individuals can reduce carbon footprint".

New mega-airports

Airports, meanwhile, have also been upping their game to entertain passengers.

Beijing opened a second aviation hub in September, described as a mega-airport. Designed by the late Zaha Hadid and her Chinese partners, it resembles a starfish and counts four runways.

Spanning 700,000 square metres, it is the world's biggest airport.

AP/Mark Schiefelbein
The terminal building for the new Beijing Daxing International Airport is seen from above in an aerial view in Beijing.AP/Mark Schiefelbein

Singapore's own mega-airport, Changi, opened its Jewel complex earlier this year. The 137,000 square metres retail and entertainment complex is nature-theme and boats the world's tallest indoor waterfall.

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