2016 – the year in aviation

It was a busy year. Delta got a new uniform, Heathrow was told it would get its third runway, Moscow got a fourth airport, and inflight Wi-Fi was very much the talk of the industry. Here are some of the stories that stood out for us.

January

The year begins and good news is in the air…

…for low cost carriers

EasyJet boss Carolyn McCall is made a Dame in the UK’s New Year honours list, for services to the airline industry. And proving that LCCs can sometimes get along with each other, four Far East airlines get together to create the U-FLY Alliance, the world’s first low cost carrier coalition.

…for aspiring pilots

Boeing announces that the industry will need more than 500,000 new pilots over the next 20 years.

…for fitness fanatics

Qantas joins up with health insurer Nib to offer frequent flyer points to members who achieve personal fitness goals.

…and for reliable onboard connectivity

Honeywell Aerospace’s Jetwave wireless inflight connectivity system gets the green light from the US FAA for the Boeing 757. JetWave is the exclusive hardware allowing aircraft to connect to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress high-speed broadband satellite service.

February

Southwest Airlines offers ‘Pay with Amazon’ on its Wi-Fi-equipped aircraft, allowing customers a new way to purchase inflight products through its entertainment portal.

Meanwhile, biscuit wars break out between two of the other US big hitters. United reintroduces free snacks for economy passengers by offering a complimentary stroopwafel. American hits back with the promise of free Biscoff Cookies.

A vital building block of the future, opening the door for airlines to truly benefit from enhanced data utilisation.

March

Inmarsat is awarded a contract by the European Space Agency to enhance Europe’s future air traffic management system IRIS with a new generation of satellite-based data link communications. Leo Mondale, President of Inmarsat Aviation, describes it as “a vital building block of the future, opening the door for airlines to truly benefit from enhanced data utilisation”.

In other news, KLM says it will be the first airline to use the Facebook Messenger app to communicate with its customers. And Boeing announces that it’s filed a patent for a self-cleaning aeroplane lavatory.

April

It’s a good month for…

…Alaska Air, which acquires Virgin America for $4bn, making it the top carrier on America’s West Coast.

…American Airlines, which celebrates its 90th birthday with festivities in airports around the world.

…Dubai airport, which overtakes Heathrow to become the world’s third busiest.

Emirates 777 with stewardess

May

92% of passengers want inflight connectivity

54% would choose staying online over inflight meals

83% choose an airline based on broadband availability

69% are willing to pay for inflight connectivity on longhaul flights

64% are willing to pay on short flights

Just some of the results revealed by a comprehensive survey of airline customers worldwide, carried out by Inmarsat and research company GfK.

Domodedovo, Sheremetyevo, Vnukovo and… The quiz show question asking the names of Moscow’s airports gets even trickier this month with the addition of a fourth – Zhukovsky.

June

In a landmark agreement, Airbus selects Inmarsat’s SB-S service as a cockpit communications solution for its A320 and A330 aircraft families, reinforcing Inmarsat’s status as the world’s leading provider of satellite safety services.

Following a successful evaluation, Hawaiian airlines will be the first to install SB-S on its fleet of A321neo.

Airlines remain sanguine after the UK’s shock Brexit decision. IAG says the vote to leave the EU won’t have a big effect on it, but may impact profits in the short term. EasyJet says the result won’t have a “material effect” on its long-term growth.

Cockpit at night

For the first time airlines could see what the system actually is and that it’s a major step forward compared to other systems.

July

It’s a good month for…

Inmarsat and Honeywell, who kick off a successful global flight showcasing GX Aviation across four continents, on Honeywell’s Boeing 757 aircraft. Over six weeks, the flying lab allows technicians to complete system integration in preparation for GX Aviation’s launch as well as providing the first opportunity for executives from several leading airlines to sample GX Aviation firsthand. “It was a key moment,” says Frederik van Essen, VP Aviation Strategy and Communication, Inmarsat Aviation. “For the first time airlines could see what the system actually is and that it’s a major step forward compared to other systems.”

Boeing, which celebrates its 100th birthday.

Emirates, which is named Airline of the Year at the annual Skytrax Awards.

Print lovers, as Jetstar Asia announces “the world’s first flying book exchange”, offering customers free books that they can then leave in their seatbacks on their return flight for another traveller.

August

China’s drive to become a global aviation player continues with the announcement that it has set up a new state-owned aviation firm – the Aero Engine Corp. of China (AECC). Its aim is to research, develop and manufacture aircraft engines and turbines, reducing the country’s reliance on foreign-made engines.

It’s ‘Call of Duty Free’, as one newspaper puts it, as Russian gunmaker Kalashnikov opens a boutique in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport selling replica machine guns. What could possibly go wrong?

September

Heroes of aviation (1)

Tom Hanks and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is immortalised in the film Sully, which tells the story of his 2009 emergency landing on the Hudson River. “For goodness sake, don’t watch it on a plane,” says Empire magazine.

Heroes of aviation (2)

Joe Sutter, the man dubbed “the father of the Jumbo jet”, dies aged 95. The former chief engineer of the Boeing 747 “lived an amazing life and was an inspiration – not just to those of us at Boeing, but to the entire aerospace industry,” say his former employers in a tribute.

What it meant was in effect that we are now officially open for business. It’s a real live product.

October

It’s a good month for…

…Airbus. The European manufacturer delivers its 10,000th aircraft.

…Boeing. Qatar Airways announces a deal to buy up to 100 planes worth up to $18,600,000,000.

…Heathrow. The airport finally gets approval from the UK government for a third runway.

…Dressing up. Delta “brings glamour back to flying” with the launch of a new uniform designed by New York fashion designer Zac Posen.

…The world. The International Civil Aviation Organisation overwhelmingly ratifies a 15-year agreement to curb global-warming-related emissions from civil airliners on international flights by an estimated 2,500,000,000 tons.

…Inflight Wi-Fi. Inmarsat’s GX Aviation goes live at APEX Expo, offering for the first time, robust, global inflight broadband through a single operator. A number of airlines have since signed up to it, including Norwegian and Air New Zealand.

…Lufthansa. Inmarsat announces that its next generation inflight broadband service, GX Aviation, has gone live under a ‘soft launch’ phase with the German carrier. “It was a milestone event,” says Inmarsat’s Frederik van Essen. “What it meant was in effect that we are now officially open for business. It’s a real live product.”

November

A month in quotes…

“It’s a monumental day of great historic relevance.”

Ralph Lopez, American Airlines’ VP for its Miami hub, celebrates the first scheduled commercial airline flight between the US and Havana, Cuba, since the early 1960s.

The most reliable, high speed broadband for private jet flights in the world.

Kurt Weidemeyer, VP Business and General Aviation at Inmarsat, greets the launch of Jet ConneX, Inmarsat’s next generation inflight broadband service for business aviation customers. Jet ConneX is available on aircraft such as Gulfstream, Bombardier and others.

“The fastest connectivity available on any aircraft.”

IAG boss Willie Walsh hails the group’s decision to install Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network high-speed, inflight passenger connectivity service on up to 341 of its narrowbody aircraft across all of its airlines, including British Airways.. It’s also announced this month that Inmarsat will provide its GX Aviation inflight broadband solution to Austrian Airlines’ continental aircraft.

“We were never actually informed or advised by Heathrow that they intended to knock down our headquarters.”

Willie Walsh again, this time on his discovery that the newly approved third runway at Heathrow will require the demolition of his Waterside HQ.

“I have this vision that in the next five to ten years Ryanair fares will be free.”

Michael O’Leary shares his dream of a promised land in which he makes his money from a cut of airport revenues.

December

Emirates sets the record for the world’s shortest scheduled flight on an A380, on its route between Dubai and Doha – a distance of approximately 235 miles.

Qantas announces it will begin direct flights between Perth and London in March 2018, using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. The 9,000 mile, 17-hour flight will be the longest non-stop passenger route in the world.

And as the year comes to a close, there’s a glimpse of the future, as it’s revealed that British defence company BAE Systems is developing a pilotless plane. It has already launched a series of test flights in which the prototype flies by itself using computers while being monitored by operators on the ground.

2016 was the year the inflight broadband revolution finally came to life.

A final thought for the year from Inmarsat President Leo Mondale, who said: “2016 was the year the inflight broadband revolution finally came to life. At Inmarsat Aviation, we look forward to working with our partners on the successful rollout of our comprehensive connectivity solutions across the globe in 2017.”