Rare is the crisis that does not create an opportunity for someone. Lockdown made Amazon’s Jeff Bezos even richer as stay-at-home shoppers relied on online purchases. And well done if years ago you invested in the pharma company that will deliver an effective Covid vaccine.
In aviation, a sudden rush of retirements and dearth of belly cargo capacity as carriers cut routes mean companies that specialize in breaking up aircraft and converting passenger airliners into freighters are among those who also have had a good 2020.
In the airline world, there have been winners too, including Wizz Air’s Jozsef Varadi. Just like Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary during the disruption to traditional business models following 9/11, the Hungarian airline boss senses an opportunity amid the chaos.
Almost uniquely among European airlines, Budapest-based Wizz Air is holding its nerve. It has not cancelled or postponed any deliveries, with 12 Airbus aircraft arriving since March, and another 40 due to be handed over in the next 15 months.
As with Ryanair and easyJet after 2001, Wizz Air finds itself on the right spot on the growth curve, as it adds routes heavily dependent on leisure travelers. Many of its rivals are stuck with too much metal, and/or fleets and route networks that rely on premium business traffic.
Varadi – who ironically once led the then-ailing and since-defunct state-run Hungarian flag-carrier Malev – believes many established players with outdated strategies do not have the finances or the flexibility to make it through. Covid-19, he believes, “sorts winners from losers”.
Another airline from the former communist bloc is also taking advantage of the turmoil. Until this year, it would have been easier for most of us to stroll into Elton John’s post-Oscars party than for a low-cost operator to gain entry to slot-constrained London Heathrow.
Brim to capacity with British Airways and other national carriers, the UK hub airport faced many challenges – not least the lack of a third runway – but the need to attract small, start-up airlines was not one of them.
In the Covid world, however, it has suddenly become possible for airlines such as Romania’s Blue Air to set up shop at Heathrow, as it plans to do later this year, with five weekly flights to Bucharest, rising to 11 in the summer. Services from Frankfurt to the Romanian capital will be added in March.
Blue Air has since 2012 been operating out of Luton, a rather cramped airport north of London with poor transport links that used to cater almost exclusively for holiday charters. Heathrow, Blue Air believes, is not only more conveniently located but offers passengers unrivalled global connectivity.
Big airports like Heathrow and Frankfurt may be suffering as business travelers stay at home and long-haul flights are grounded, but it is secondary and regional airports – exposed to a smaller number of airlines that might go bust or move on – that could end up sustaining more damage.
Finally, if you have been laid off as a pilot, what aircraft could you end up flying when the industry recovers? How about an Embraer turboprop? The Brazilian firm built its last propeller aircraft nearly 20 years ago, but has long been considering fielding a rival to ATR and De Havilland Canada.
On 29 October, Embraer released images of a turboprop concept. It bears a lot of similarity to its E-Jet family, with engines driving propellers mounted above a low-slung wing. However, the horizontal tailplane sits above the vertical tailplane in a T-tail design that differs substantially from the jet.
One aircraft you might not be flying, however, is the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, formerly the MRJ. On 30 October, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said it was pausing the development of its regional jet, which has struggled for traction in the market since its launch 12 years ago.
Although the Japanese manufacturer says it is assessing a “possible programme restart”, the Covid-19 crisis has made it even harder for Mitsubishi to become the first company to smash through the sky high entry barriers to the commercial jet market since Embraer in the 1990s.
welcome aboard the new airside
We took our community to the next level with an elevated look, innovative features, and new tools.