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Resilient Airlines: 5 Companies That Soared to Success After COVID-19

  • by: Jonny Kramer
  • On: 28, Sep 2023
7 min read

The aviation industry was hit hard by lockdown restrictions in 2020. In April of 2019, there were more than 10,000 flights a day on average. By April of 2020, that number was down almost two thirds. The industry collectively lost $140 billion in the first year of the pandemic.  

By April of 2021, daily flights were still 43% lower than they had been two years earlier. In April of 2022, monthly flights were still 11% lower than they had been.  

In 2022, both European and North American airline carriers saw full-year traffic jump 130% compared to the previous year. 

The latest forecast from the International Air Transport Association predicts a global profit of $4.6bn on revenues of $779bn in 2023. This slim operating margin of just 0.4% might not seem a cause for celebration, but if the industry achieves these figures it will prove that recovery is possible, an amazing achievement considering some experts had claimed the industry wouldn’t recover financially until the end of 2024 or later. 

This may take a long time, and though it’s predicted that the industry will overtake 2019 levels in the coming years, we can see that some airlines handled travel restrictions far better than others. Some have been able to recover, build their brand, and go on to new levels of success. 

5 airlines that recovered from lockdown 

 British Airways 

British Airways was one airline that was hit hard by the start of travel restrictions, famously cutting 120,000 jobs in April of 2020. 

They’ve recovered by opening up new routes, and increasing flights to offset losses. British Airways now operates 56 flights a week in India, up from 49 in 2019.  

At a roundtable event in New Delhi, British Airways’ CEO Sean Doyle said:  

“One of the first markets that we were keen to rebuild all our presence was in India. We’re back flying to all of our flight gateways in India, and seeing a positive picture in terms of demand from the leisure and VFR segment, although corporate travel has been slow to recover.” 

British Airways now flies to five cities across India: New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Chennai. The airline also flies from London to Asia-Pacific destinations 113 times a week, helping improve profits. 

BA’s parent company, The International Airlines Group reported a net profit of $431 million as early as 2022, incredibly impressive considering they had reported a loss of $2.9 billion the previous year. The group is confident it will continue to improve over this year. 

Singapore Airlines Group 

The group, which includes Singapore Airlines and Scoot, have shown passenger numbers recovering at a steady rate.  

In just one year, the group went from carrying 893,000 passengers in March of 2022, to 2.72 million in March of 2023, an absolutely massive increase. 

At the end of March, Singapore Airlines Group's passenger network covered 109 destinations in 36 countries. 

But it isn’t all passenger flights. Cargo flights kept many Asian airlines going during the pandemic, and Singapore Airlines managed to maintain these vital connections throughout, allowing the company to keep afloat. 

It was a smart strategy, as Singapore Airlines posted a record net profit of $1.6 billion this year. 

Uzbekistan Airports 

Uzbekistan Airports governs the country’s 11 international air gateways, and has seen air traffic grow by 38% this year compared with 2021.  

In 2022, the carrier resumed all the routes that had been suspended in 2020 and launched new flights, helping to offset losses from the previous years. 

Their CEO, Rano Djurayeva, expects passenger traffic to grow to 7 million in 2023, and increase over their 6.7 million flights in 2019. Uzbekistan Airports’ forecast shows that the country’s air traffic could reach over 27 million passengers by 2035, an ambitious target. 

But they’re working towards making it happen, with two new local carriers in Uzbekistan that are expected to start operating this year, and plans to add flights to Jakarta and Indonesia, and increase frequencies on existing routes by the end of this year. The airline’s fleet grew to 32 aircraft by the end of 2022 with the addition of five Airbus A321neos, so it’s clear they’re invested in turning their vision to reality. 

Lufthansa 

German airline Lufthansa reported profits in 2022, surprising many who believed the industry would continue to struggle.  

Having lost €6.7 billion in 2020 and €2.2 billion in 2021, Lufthansa managed to make an adjusted operating profit of €1.5 billion in 2022. 

The company was bailed out by the German government in 2020, and had to let go many of its staff to deal with reduced demand due to travel restrictions. 

In November of 2022, Lufthansa launched a campaign to hire 20,000 new employees in November, including pilots, flight attendants, technicians, and IT specialists.  

The company is now looking to invest in Italy's ITA Airways, proposing initially to purchase a minority stake but with the option to buy up the remaining shares. 

It also aims to develop Rome into a travel hub for direct flights to and from the US, helping improve profitability and international brand recognition. 

Etihad 

Similar to other airlines in this article, Etihad Airways focused on cargo flights as a way to slow losses during travel restrictions. Thanks to this strategy, Etihad managed to cut their operating losses by 72% in 2021 compared to 2020. 

Etihad's cargo revenue jumped 49% to $1.73bn in 2021, the highest in the airline's history. This allowed them to to continue ahead with a bold five-year restructuring programme that reduced its fleet, network, and workforce to offset losses. 

During the pandemic, the airline took further steps to reduce costs and preserve cashflow, which together with its transformation programme has placed it in better shape to deal with the global crisis, it said. 

These airlines show that recovery is possible, and that with smart management and rapid solutions, the industry can handle adversity and uncertainty of any kind. 

Read more about lessons the aviation industry learned from Covid-19, or learn about how the aviation industry is shifting to a digital strategy 

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