The Five Positive Things That Happened In Aviation in 2020

The Five Positive Things That Happened In Aviation in 2020

The Airbus ZEROe project

As 2020 comes to a close, many of us who work in the aviation industry breathe a sigh of relief. This year has been a pivot point for our industry, changing how passengers fly and have given many a harsh reality check. While recovery from the crisis has been slow, a few notable positive aviation stories have come out of this colorful year that gives us hope for 2021. Here are five highlights that cover a broad range of positive developments.

Many new airline startups

While the market was certainly turbulent, many ambitious new players saw a new way to make their aviation mark and pushed forward with plans to launch in 2020. Notable new startups and airline ventures include Sky Mali, which launched a new domestic network in a country that has been shrouded in turmoil. Rex Airlines, an Australian regional carrier that will take on flag carrier Qantas in the competitive Australian market. Or lastly, Ibom Air took the title of the first regional-state-owned airline globally, and that has gone from strength to strength.

“August and September, [Ibom Air] recorded 424 and 545 operated flights … with 5 and 6 departures later than 15 minutes after the scheduled time and a 99 % on-time performance for both months”. – Reported This Day Live on Ibom Air’s incredible on-time performance.

Other ventures included many countries pushing forward with airport modernization plans, such as Nigeria who successfully updated Akanu Ibiam International Airport to an international standard during the crisis, opening in August.

“You may recall that the runway of this essential airport, which is vital to the economic development of the region and the whole country at large, was in a very dilapidated stage and worse condition…this project is indeed a testimony to Mr. President’s commitment to infrastructure development in the country,” said Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to the Premium Times at the airports opening ceremony. 

These airlines, airports, and many others have seen how 2020 has changed the status quo and have taken a chance to enter the market with new, fresh ideas – even against other national carriers that are household names and are struggling in market conditions.

Cargo having a bigger role in aviation

The rise of cargo price was a silver lining this year for many cargo carriers and passenger airlines, pivoting their fleets away from passenger revenue flights and cargo operations. Thanks to surging worldwide demand for medical goods, PPE, and a lack of passenger flights to transfer them, airlines that could jump into the trade found themselves thriving while saving lives. Much of this cargo was destined for hospitals or areas that lacked medical aid (such as developing nations or communities in remote areas), and only through air travel did these supplies get there in time.

A fantastic and still evolving case study is Ethiopian Airlines’ role in rolling out the vaccine between China and Africa. The airline has established critical cold-chain facilities (to keep the vaccine viable while in transit) and allow sub-Saharan countries like Sudan to acquire the life-saving miracle drug.

“Addis Ababa is a good hub since its air transport links are excellent, and the Ethiopian [airlines] have established a more equal negotiating relationship with China than most – so Ethiopia is trusted as a middle man.” Noted a professor to South China Morning Post. 

Other stories included airlines converting passenger planes into ad-hock cargo carriers or even filling cabins with goods to get cargo where it needs to go as rapidly as possible.

South African Airlines used a passenger Airbus A340 to fly supplies from Frankfurt, Germany, to Johannesburg filled with essential medical supplies, such as coronavirus testing kits.

“The decision to deploy an A346 is based on both its capacity and range and so bolsters our freighter services during this time when there is a high demand for cargo shipments.” SAA Cargo’s acting general manager, Justice Luthuli, speaking to Air Cargo News. 

As soon as April, Airbus has begun working on a modification for A330 and A350 family aircraft aimed at enabling airlines to install freight pallets directly onto the cabin floor seat tracks, after removal of the economy-class seats.

This has saved many airlines from bankruptcy and kept jobs, but facilitated regional route connections that even in the best of times were tenuous. Moving forward into early 2021, cargo will play a pivotal role in the aviation industry, and many airlines will handle packages with equal importance as passengers.

“Despite the grim situation the world is grappling with, we feel heartened by the small contribution we are making to curb further loss of lives by carrying critical medical supplies where they are needed the most.” Tewolde GebreMariam, Ethiopian Group chief executive, said to Air Cargo News. 

Escalated technology change

Not only has this year changed the way we fly, but planes design themselves have been reevaluated to face challenging economic conditions. Airbus revealed to the world in 2020 its plans for a fleet of Hydrogen-powered aircraft with its ZEROe project, featuring everything from turboprop aircraft to regional jet aircraft that could replace routes under 2,000 nautical miles and save the planet in the process. While these designs are ambitious enough to require plenty of new technology, we must commend Airbus for bringing the vision to a year that has seemed so dark.

Other notable new developments include the Honeywell Aviation UV Treatment System – a high-powered UV cleaning robot that can chew through a passenger cabin and making it 99% covid free, all without exposing any crew to danger. Airports have also embraced this new technology, with Singapore’s main airport using the cleaning robot technology to disinfect arrival halls throughout the facility 24/7 a day. Other airport features include self-service PPE kiosks (and vending machines) and contactless bathrooms.

“Passengers don’t just want to see a clean airport — they want to know it’s clean, and they want to know it’s safe,” said Katherine Karolick, senior vice-president of Information Technology for Pittsburgh International airport, which recently rolled out a fleet of robot cleaners. “Ultraviolet robots have been used in hospitals as a way to disinfect and kill microorganisms, so it is definitely something that makes sense for an airport.”

The rise of health security

On the note of changing aviation, as we saw after September 9/11 back in 2001, there is now an extra emphasis on security. But this change is not directed towards physical security, but rather a focus on biosecurity. Airports worldwide have now put health front and center and are prepared to deal with new outbreaks where they happen. We have seen the rollouts of biosecurity screening equipment and systems to check each passenger on arrival – making the world of aviation safer than ever before.

“Every passenger arriving from Dubai must pass two COVID-19 checks, one 96 hours before the flight and once when they arrive at the airport there,” commented a recent traveler to Dubai in the Jerusalem Post.

Airlines have also played their part in this challenge, operating covid-safe flights from hot spots to international hubs to facilitate the flow of resources and medical expertise. These airlines have ensured that their staff have the right equipment (such as masks, gloves, coveralls, and digital thermometers) to keep themselves and their passengers in their care safe.

Emirates was one of the first airlines to react. As stated in their May 21st press release this year“Emirates has introduced complimentary hygiene kits to be given to every passenger upon check-in at Dubai International Airport and on flights to Dubai. These kits comprise of masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer… Gloves and masks are mandatory for all customers and employees at the airport in Dubai”.

Returning families home

The last positive story we would like to mention in this short article (after all, there are many more than just five positive stories from 2020 in aviation) is how the industry helped reunite families and return those who had been trapped away on distant shores. Countries banded together with their airlines and organized countless repatriation flights to get loved ones home, facing off this crisis together.

“I’d like to thank not only the crew who are volunteering to operate on these services, but the many people behind the scenes who make sure these flights happen, particularly to cities where we don’t typically operate to.” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce commented to the media regarding operating repatriation flights for those Australian citizens returning home and those foreign nationals in Australia who wish to go abroad.

Eways aviation would like to thank the countless pilots, flight crew, ground teams, maintenance crew members, logistics officers, back-end operators, administrators, and much more who, without their help and sleepless nights, aviation would be slow to recover. Thank you.

Is the COMAC C919 a viable option for budget-minded airlines?

Is the COMAC C919 a viable option for budget-minded airlines?

The COMAC C919

COMAC, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, has been making inroads in emerging countries with its range of aerospace offerings, from smaller turbojet aircraft to jet aircraft that could very well rival Airbus’s offerings as well as Boeing’s. One of these aircraft, the C919, is suited for operations for emerging countries and might very well be a more viable option compared to its equivalents the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. What is the C919, and what are the jet’s advantages and disadvantages for emerging countries and budget-minded airlines?

What is the COMAC C919?

The C919 is the Chinese equivalent of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, the two most popular aircraft. It can carry 168  passengers in a single class or 158 passengers in the standard two-class layout. With American-made GE engines, it has a range of 4,075 km / 2,200 nautical miles, or if opting for the extended range with a bigger fuel tank, 5,555 km / 3,000 nautical miles. This format, which is tried and true at Airbus and Boeing, suits the emerging market and would revitalize any airline that deploys the aircraft.

The plane model is still undergoing flight tests, but engineers are confident that the first deliveries will take place in early 2021 to Chinese carriers. Nearly 1000 units of the C919 have been ordered throughout China (and twenty for the United States at General Electric as test planes). Once proven in the domestic market, COMAC will likely drive sales in other regions.

But the question remains if the C919 is a good aircraft for emerging countries and budget-minded airlines; let us examine some of the advantages of the aircraft.

Advantages of the C919

The major advantage of the C919 is availability. As the order backlog is significantly smaller than the Airbus A320neo series (and doesn’t suffer from the Boeing 737 MAX grounding that will take years to resolve), the C919 can be in an airline’s hands sooner than later. This means all the advantages of a new aircraft without having to wait or experience production delays – and thanks to China’s reputation of mass production, you can bet that once the airframe is fully tested and rolling out, COMAC will be able to deliver rapidly.

The COMAC C919 cockpit

Besides, the C919 is likely going to be cheaper. Thanks to ties to the Chinese government, COMAC can bend the trade rules when it comes to the C919 and supplement the capital required for airlines to buy the airframe over a Boeing or Airbus design. Emerging countries might be able to purchase two C919s for a single Boeing 737 or a single COMAC aircraft for the cost of a second-hand Airbus A320.

Lastly, if an emerging country can partner up with China for a nation-building project, then part of the deal might also include a fleet of new COMAC C919 aircraft to found a new national airline – a fantastic prospect.

Disadvantages of the C919

However, despite all of the above, there are a few drawbacks with selecting the C919 that airlines need to take note of.

The aircraft is currently unproven. While it flies, it hasn’t performed any revenue services yet, and the jury is still out on whether it’s a good aircraft for commercial aviation. There might be some flaws or hiccups that would hinder airlines’ growth. For example, Interjet, a Mexican low-cost carrier purchased several Superjet 100s from the Russian firm Sukhoi. A series of faults and groundings later, the airline has returned the entire fleet after spending the better time of its active service inside a hangar. An airline, especially one in an emerging country, would be cautious not to invest heavily in a type (or forbid its entire fleet) that may have some teething issues. The COMAC C919 will certainly be a great plane, but so is the Superjet 100.

This leads us to the next issue. Some emerging centers, such as in Africa, are so far from China that any serious maintenance problems will take months to resolve. COMAC does not have the same parts network, MRO, or AOG services as Boeing and Airbus, and there are currently not international maintenance centers. If it takes months to get a part for an aircraft, an airline will lose millions in revenue.

Lastly, there is the matter of training. Many emerging countries shortcut the pilot recruitment process by hiring experienced pilots who are already type rated for their airline fleet – for example, European A320 pilots. However, in the case of the C919, there are no pilots outside of China, nor any facilities to train them. Emerging countries will need to solve this logic puzzle before they can launch, and at the end of the day might just be wondering if sticking to more traditional aircraft is worth their time.

C919’s time is yet to come

The bottom line is the COMAC C919’s day in the sun is yet to come. It’s a great plane, but it will need many years of revenue service in China before other countries in the world can consider the type. COMAC will need to invest heavily in other nations, ensuring that the support infrastructure is part of any sales plan and that the aircraft is as reliable as a Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. In the meantime, emerging and budget-minded airlines are suggested to look to the second-hand market for reliable aircraft with existing support and available parts.

Sky Mali – The Rise Of A New National Carrier

Sky Mali – The Rise Of A New National Carrier

“Sky Mali, the soul of frequent travelers” – The tagline of the new carrier.

Sky Mali is one of the youngest airlines in Africa and poised to become the next great airline of Mali – taking over a flag carrier’s mantle in a country that has faced so many challenges. Where did this airline come from, how has it managed to thrive in such an unforgiving aviation landscape, and what can we expect next from Sky Mali?

Humble beginnings

Sky Mali was created by a Dubai investment firm, Wings Investments, which recognized an unfilled market gap in Africa – in the country of Mali. The country had been involved in some political instability that led to the failure of its previous national airline, Air Mali, back in 2012, leaving the local aviation space free of any private or public scheduled carriers.

While the bulk of the operation’s finances have come from a private fund, the airline has also received full support from the Mali Directorate of Finance and the Ministry of Transport, who floated a feasibility study to create a new national airline last year. So far, the airline has managed to secure a single Boeing 737-500 and operates the countries only scheduled service from Bamako – Kayes. If you have read the previous article on the market, you know it is a special feat indeed!

“After successfully passing the Bamako-Kayes test flight, the [Malian civil aviation agency ANAC] has issued us with an air operator’s certificate (AOC), authorizing us to perform commercial air transport operations,” Sky Mali said via Facebook on July 21, 2020. The service commenced regular operations in September this year.

From here, the airline has slowly rolled out additional domestic services linking together the four regional capitals, Gao (GAO); Kayes (KYS); Mopti (MZE), and, still planned, a link to distant Timbuktu (TOM), all from the capital of the country Bamako (BKO). The airline has attributed its success to its three core tenants: safety, security, and above all, quality in the service.

How have they been successful?

The new venture is led by engineer and entrepreneur Baba Haidara, who brings his experience working in aviation and knowledge of the local market as the formal director of Air Mali. The plan is for Sky Mali to become the country’s next flag carrier and one day be the defacto western African airline.

Sky Mali wants to benefit from Bamako’s geographical position. “Bamako is a natural hub at a 90mn flight distance of almost all the Western African capitals.” explained Mr. Haidara back in February.

 “All the airports in Mali must be served. But the regional dimension, Europe, the Middle East won’t be forgotten. We will accompany our fellow citizens on the pilgrimage,”   Mr. Haidara said when launching the airline back in July.

As mentioned, the venture is primarily funded by a middle-eastern investment firm that has deployed $31 million US towards the first operations. The airline has not ruled out local support for future expansion, be it private or from the Mali government, with a plan to eventually allow local Maliese to invest. Back in February 2020, Mr Haidarra already said that “the Malian government will participate in the project very soon”.

One of the shrewd ways the airline intends to be profitable right from the beginning by using a modern fleet of Boeing 737s. As opposed to older aircraft, the carrier can ensure better passenger comfort, fuel savings, and reliability quotas.

“It is a modern and judiciously calibrated fleet that makes it possible to offer better passenger comfort, to achieve significant fuel savings, and to meet its commitments.” Said the Sky Mali board chairman Mr. Lucien D’Almeida, who, with his 25 years at Air Afrique, will be a valuable support to Mr. Haidara. “This investment will very soon reach the level of other companies in the sub-region, i.e., 40 to 50 billion FCFA”. 

What happens next?

Once the current crisis comes to a close, the airline plans to roll out its planned expansion from just the country’s four other capital centers to two international destinations – Douala and Pointe Noire. With a strong regional network, the airline will expand its fleet with a 2nd Boeing 737 (be it another -500 or a more modern -800) and an EMB-145 regional jet, and two Chinese MA-60 twin-turboprop aircraft (with three more tentatively ordered).

The airline’s network will then be extended to include regional flights from Bamako to other countries within western and central Africa, including major hubs such as Dakar and Accra. Eventually, the carrier plans to link back to Europe and perhaps even to North America, although they will need to secure widebody aircraft.

The airline will take its place as the only scheduled international carrier operating out of Mali and represent how far the country has come.

Is Mali The Toughest Aviation Landscape In Africa?

Is Mali The Toughest Aviation Landscape In Africa?

Mali’s main airport, The Modibo Keita International Airport was opened to traffic in 1974

Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa, with a population just shy of twenty million people, rivaling many European countries. Yet, its impact on aviation, especially in Africa, doesn’t match its ambitions. What is the aviation landscape like in Mali, and what lessons can we learn about their market environment?

First, we need to understand Mali’s complex geopolitical situation and its place on the world stage. While it is physically located in the heart of West Africa (like Senegal and Gambia), it can’t rightly take advantage of these links between population centers and flights to Europe. This is because of recent conflicts in the country (as recent as 2012 and a coup in August this year), which have led to market turbulence, a loss of infrastructure, and displaced people. However, hope is returning, and several start-up airlines are reforming to take advantage of the, on paper, remarkable market conditions. Although funding remains a challenge for starting new airlines and upgrading airports, many foreign investors are wary even to consider involvement.

“Mali has a strong geostrategic location, which allows the issuance of aeronautical services to the whole sub-region. The country’s socio-political situation generates a very high level of security in its airports to develop new activities such as base maintenance activity or FBO.” – Excerpt from a 2017 interview with the CEO of the Malian Airport Assistance Company (ASAM-SA) Dominique Dreuil.

Who are the airlines of Mali?

There are currently only four active airlines in Mali according to the Ch-Aviation database; they are:

  • Sky Mali – Scheduled Carrier, the only domestic airline in the country operating commercial routes. This airline deserves its own article and will be featured on Eways Aviation shortly.
  • Afrikayes Air – A virtual carrier. It does not yet have an AOC, but in the meantime operates flights with a chartered E195 from Air Burkina (Burkina Faso) for flights between Bamako and Kayes.
  • Sahel Aviation Service – Passenger charter airline. It has a fleet of two leased Embraer E145.
  • Republique du Mali – Government airline for official business. They operate a Boeing 727 and a Boeing 737BBJ configured for exclusive VIP transport.

Mali is also riddled with many defunct carriers that have carried the flag, such as:

Air Mali, the former national carrier (1960-89 and 2005-12)

  • Air Mali (1960–89) – The long-serving national carrier was shut down after an aircraft crash and heavy debts.
  • Air Mali (2005-12) – A restart of the national carrier, operations seemed to be going well until the country’s 2012 northern conflict shut down operations. When the civil war finished, the airline didn’t resume, and all employees were let go. To this day it is still incorporated but does not operate (nor seems to be making any effort to do so)
  • Douniah Airlines – An aborted launch attempt for this start-up left many disappointed, as it promised a west African network linked by several ATR-72 aircraft.
  • Mali Airways and Mali Air Transport – A charter airline that operated for the government but then went bankrupt.
  • Imperial Airways – A startup that sent its only MD-83 to Venezuela late last year. Since then, it has had no aircraft to fly.
  • SAM Intercontinental – A charter airline that went bankrupt last year.


What are the airports?

There are several airports of note in the country. Five are rated for international services (Bamako-Senou, Kayes Dag Dag, Mopti Ambodedjo, Sikasso Dignagan, Timbuktu, Gao), and three are only for domestic national services (Nioro, Yelimane, and Goundam). However, only Bamako-Senou and Kayes Dag Dag currently have international flights and regularly scheduled services. Further airports might start to see new services with Sky Mali planning a far-reaching domestic route network, but that will be covered in another article.

Bamako-Senou, known as Modibo Keita International Airport (BKO), is the only international airport in the country with a paved 2,700-meter long runway. In 2007, US$181 million was spent upgrading the facility with efforts halting in 2012 during the civil war, only four months before it was due to be finished. Like other airports in the country, it is managed by Aéroports du Mali, a government firm that handles the airfields’ operation and organization. These other airports don’t see many airlines at all due to the ongoing conflicts in the north of the country and the current political destabilization that occurred only a month ago in the capital.

Hope for the future

Until the country returns to a new normal with free elections, the ejection of the Islamic insurgency, and including the implementation of a Coronavirus vaccine, it is unlikely that aviation will truly blossom. However, some airlines like Sky Mali are attempting to jumpstart the industry and return the swansong of aviation back to the country. And for that mission it needs all the help it can get.

Saving The Aviation Industry In Senegal

Saving The Aviation Industry In Senegal

The initial A330neo for Air Senegal, named “Casamance,” was presented during a ceremony at Blaise-Diagne International Airport in Dakar attended by Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal (photo Airbus)

The Senegalese government has taken a drastic step to intervene in its aviation industry. But is this enough to protect the newcomer from the wide-reaching effects of the current crisis, or perhaps it should be left to the country’s free-market to right this shaky ship! Let’s explore.

Who are the main players in Senegalese aviation?

Senegal is a less represented country on the world aviation stage, but it still manages to hold a significant strategic location, the western African seaboard. Located south of Morroco, north of Central Western African states like Serra Leon and Liberia, and surrounding The Gambia, the country finds itself smack-bang in the middle of the region’s flight paths and controlling access to Europe and North America.

However, the country has plenty of challenges. With cheap and plentiful ground transport, the local domestic market has yet to bloom. Its international prospects struggle to offer a competitive advantage, especially considering the country’s main airport, Blaise Diagne International Airport is well connected to by foreign carriers. Dakar’s international airport (the one just mentioned) opened after a six year delay, but not a moment too soon for the country’s growing appetite for flying. It has a single long modern runway that can take everything up to an Airbus A380, as well as six gates and plenty of land around the site to expand in future years.

There are three other airports of note in the country (which when considering its size, is underdeveloped) all located on the other side of The Gambia. They are Cap Skirring Airport to the extreme south on the other side of The Gambia (an essential link to avoid a long road or shorter boat journey) on the coast, Ziguinchor Airport further inland, and lastly Kolda North Airport which is located to the southeast. This last airport is not served by the national carrier, but rather Transair (the country’s largest private airline).

Speaking of airlines, the country has three.

The biggest national flag carrier Air Senegal was founded in 2016, which specializes in scheduled flights between West Africa and Europe. It has a large range of destinations (nineteen in total, two of which are domestic) with a fleet of seven aircraft. But make no mistake, these are not older planes from forgotten airlines but rather cutting edge planes from Airbus such as the brand new A330neo and an order for eight A220s due next year.

“[They] will contribute to developing our long haul network to Europe and our regional network in Africa”, said CEO Ibrahima Kane at the Paris Air Show in 2019. The aircraft will be used for routes to London, Geneva, and Lagos to complement its network to France and Spain with the bigger A330neos “Combined with our recent A330neo aircraft, this new Airbus fleet reveals Air Senegal’s ambition to offer the best travel experience for our passengers.” With a fleet like this, Air Senegal is certainly set for success.

Next on the list is a carrier called Transair. They operate a few scheduled services and domestic flights across the region with its four aircraft fleet (two turboprops and two Embraer jet aircraft). They were slowly expanding before the pandemic and reached a destination list of twelve (focusing on the tourism niche) before being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Before (the pandemic), we were expanding, we were even thinking about starting inter-continental flights in a few years,” Transair’s boss and founder, Alioune Fall, told AFP back in May. “Now everything’s come to a halt. When you have been doing three or four flights a day, and then it all suddenly stops, you have no idea what lies ahead.” 

The smallest is Arc en Ciel Airlines (formerly known as “Arc-en-Ciel Aviation” but it was rebranded earlier this year), which caters to charter flights and operates a small fleet of six turboprop aircraft. Originally founded for the oil industry, the carrier has also expanded into tourism charters like Transair and supply an essential on-demand medical service in remote areas.

What are the current government efforts?

The local government Minister of Tourism and Air Transport Alioune Sarr, via his official Twitter account, announced back in August that XOF77 billion ($120 million, 110 million euros) in investment will be made into both the aviation and tourism sectors to stem the losses from the Coronavirus crisis. Officially this stimulus is in place to support airlines, keep aviation jobs, and prepare the market for a bounce-back when travel resumes.

The funding has been split up in the following ways:

  • 45 billion for Air Senegal to keep 300 jobs and maintain all eight aircraft flight-ready.
  • 15 billion for other aviation firms and tourism businesses that rely on the airline industry
  • 12 billion for the coronavirus quarantine program (for hotels)
  • Five billion reserved for further state investment and state agencies
  • Lastly, the government has also suspended the tax for tourism and aviation sector companies.

Other airlines like Transair are not receiving direct stimulus (as they are private entities); however, they have low-interest loans and benefit from the suspended tax rules. Speaking in the same article, Transair’s CEO has said he has managed to keep 104 employees so far, but there is still a risk of bankruptcy in the future.

“This is why the planes are still flying,” he said. “Activity will pick up, starting within a minimal service.”

Speaking to France 24, Ibra Wane, a Senegalese consultant for IATA and owner of Arc-en-Ciel Aviation, warned that “bloody” days lay ahead.

“Budgets for business travel are going to be reduced, and tourism will shrink terribly. If (airline) companies do not scale back their operations and cut costs, they could disappear.”

Will this be enough for the airlines to survive?

Like many other nations, Senegal’s government is taking drastic action to save the airline industry and keep its small but still diverse aviation economy afloat. Only time will tell if this is enough and if the world returns to this humble nation. In the meantime, these airlines need to keep their aircraft in flight-ready conditions, and this requires support from a firm like Eways Aviation that understands the current market conditions. Eways Aviation has become the defacto AOG and MRO firm in the region and an important strategic partner for those firms preparing for a service return through working together and trust. If you would like support or need AOG services that understand local realities, get in touch today.