As this turbulent year comes to a close, we are reflecting on the hottest headlines of the year in the aviation world.
In 2021, the industry saw new, innovative electric and supersonic aircraft taking center stage. With the push for net zero carbon by 2050, it comes as no surprise that environmentally-friendly aircraft, coupled with an increase in sustainable aviation fuel availability, became one of the major focuses of the year.
Here are our picks for the top aviation news stories of 2021, in no particular order.
Availability and use of sustainable aviation fuel increases worldwidePilots and companies alike are looking for ways to reduce their carbon output when they fly, increasing the popularity of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
Aircraft manufacturers are racing to get new and old airframe models equipped to utilize the fuel alternatives. Textron Aviation announced that its popular training aircraft, the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, can now utilize 91-octane unleaded, 94UL or 100VLL fuel. The Cessna 182 Skylane, a beefed-up version of the 172, was also approved for the unleaded and lower-leaded fuels.
In February, Rolls-Royce conducted the first tests of 100% SAF in a business jet engine, its new Pearl 700. This testing opens doorways for future jet engines to be delivered on airframes already prepared to operate with SAF, replacing the need for future service. It was designed in partnership with Gulfstream to power its G700.
The helicopter manufacturers are not far behind, with Airbus performing the first-ever helicopter flight with 100% SAF on an Airbus H225. While Airbus helicopters are currently certified to fly with a 50% blend of SAF mixed with kerosene, the company hopes to have its rotorcraft certified to fly with 100% SAF before 2030.
Sustainable aviation fuel availability is also spreading around the world. A factory located just east of Montreal will bring the first production of SAF to Canada by 2026. Across the Atlantic in France, aviation fuel supplier TotalEnergies is bringing the first permanent fuel supply of SAF to the Paris-Le Bourget airport.
This year, GlobalAir.com updated its Airport Resource Center, so U.S.-based FBOs can report SAF fuel prices.
Industry professionals around the world are also looking for unique ways to increase the alternative fuel supply as its production has not been able to meet its demand. Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) became the first in the U.S. to test a circular economy project in aviation, turning used cooking oil from food service concessionaires into renewable fuels.
Scientists in Switzerland say airplane fuel can be made out of sunlight and air. A team of researchers at ETH Zurich University have been operating a mini solar refinery on the roof of the school over the last two years with the hopes of producing carbon-neutral fuel from natural elements.
California county moves to ban 100LL fuel at two airportsWhile the industry works toward innovations to foster a greener future in its blue skies, not every political body is patiently waiting. In a recent move that threw the aviation community into a frenzy, Santa Clara County in California announced it would ban the sale of 100LL fuel at two airports beginning Jan. 1, 2022, Reid-Hillview and San Martin.
The root of the ban comes from a study of lead levels in children living near the Santa Clara, California airports. While the study did see a slightly elevated lead level in the children's blood, the levels were in line with those seen in kids from around the state.
In mid-December, California-based attorney Glynn Falcon reached out to GlobalAir.com. He is representing a group of FBOs at Reid-Hillview to stop the ban, at least until 100UL fuel is made available at the airports.
As the major aviation trade groups, the affected FBOs and the airports' users push back, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now launched an investigation into the county's 100LL ban, saying the move is a potential violation of conditions to receive federal money.
Concerns that the 5G wireless rollout could interfere with cockpit safety systemsMeanwhile, innovations in other industries could impact all aspects of aviation. 5G wireless is the next-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, bringing better call connections and faster speeds, according to major carriers like ATandamp;T and Verizon. While this sounds like a great benefit, the interference with cockpit systems that utilize radar altimeters has the potential to wreak havoc on the safety of aircraft, according to the FAA.
The FAA is set to issue a Special Airworthiness Bulletin and Airworthiness Directive over concerns about the 5G networks conflicting with cockpit safety systems.
A week after the FAA called for a closer look at the safety impacts on 5G technology, industry groups like AOPA, EAA, and NBAA demanded a working group be formed to examine the issue.
With Verizon and ATandamp;T scheduled to roll out 5G wireless service on Jan. 5, 2022, a one-month delay of the original rollout, time is running out for the industry to come to a resolution. Just before Christmas, the FAA issued a safety alert for officers (SAFO) regarding the 5G issue. Most recently, a week before the rollout, the FAA issued a release saying it believes that aviators and 5G can "safely coexist."
The end comes for several beloved aircraft models and brands, including LearjetWhile 2021 saw many new and innovative airframes come to market, it also saw the ending of some legacy models.
RELATED: The top new business aircraft models announced in 2021
In February, Bombardier announced that it would end the production of the Learjet family of aircraft in the fourth quarter of 2021. Instead, the company will focus on the Challenger and Global aircraft families, both of which are more profitable, the company said.
Bombardier took over Learjet in 1990; the company assured owners that their jets can still be maintained and serviced through the company.
Textron Aviation also announced the end in production of several aircraft, including the Cessna Citation Sovereign+. This move paves the way for the Cessna Citation Longitude and Citation Latitude, both of which received certification in the last 6 years, to be the company's focus in their individual classes.
Textron also ended production of its King Air C90 series, which was first delivered in 1971. With the newly upgraded King Air 260 and King Air 360 coming into the hot market, the company concluded there was little room left for the C90 series.
The supersonic aircraft race ends for Aerion and begins for BoomSupersonic travel could be possible within the next 50 years, and a handful of companies have been racing to bring their supersonic aircraft to market.
In March, Aerion, a supersonic aircraft company, announced a collaboration with NetJets to bring supersonic business jets to the industry. NetJets, a jet fleet operator, agreed to purchase 20 Aerion AS2 supersonic business jets, which were set to start production in 2023.
Later that same month, Aerion also released the first glimpse of its AS3, a Mach 4+ commercial airliner that could fly up to 50 passengers at a range of 7,000 nautical miles.
Despite a global order backlog valued at more than $11 billion, reports began circulating in May that the company was shutting down. Aerion said in a statement that in the "current financial environment" investments were challenging to close.
But the dream of supersonic travel is far from over. Boom Supersonic is still developing its Overture airliner that could be used for passenger flights by 2029.
In a move that surprised many in the industry, United Airlines agreed to purchase 15 of Boom Supersonic's Overture airliners, with the option to purchase an additional 35. The aircraft could roll out as soon as 2025.
Trying to go five times beyond supersonic, Hermeus, an Atlanta-based startup that idolizes Space X and uses the slogan "race you there," wants to develop a hypersonic aircraft, and has even lit the afterburner on the core of its powerplant.
After receiving a $60 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to bring the concept to life, Hermeus unveiled a full-scale prototype, dubbed the Quarterhorse. Test flights could begin before the end of the decade.
Aircraft makers announce development of new all-electric passenger and training aircraft
Supersonic aircraft are not the only new aircraft type coming to the market. Electric aircraft, both in the form of passenger and trainer, could replace much of the general aviation fleet in the coming decades.
Bye Aerospace has been at the forefront of the research and design of electric aircraft, recently announcing an eight-seat all-electric twin turboprop, the eFlyer 800, and a two-seat all-electric training aircraft, the eFlyer 2.
Back in January, the manufacturer announced it has begun production on Serial #001 for the eFlyer 2 and is already in the process of obtaining FAA Part 23 certification for flight training missions.
Diamond Aircraft, a piston manufacturer, also announced an all-electric aircraft it would be bringing to the market, the eDA40. This electric aircraft will be targeted at operators who will be flight training.
Initial flights for the eDA40 are scheduled for the second quarter of 2022, with certification expected in 2023.
Wheels Up becomes first private aviation company to be traded on NYSEIn July, Wheels Up achieved a historic milestone, becoming the first private aviation company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
To achieve this, Wheels Up had to first merge with an acquisition company, Aspirational Consumer Lifestyle Corp. The transaction valued Wheels Up at an enterprise value of $2.1 billion.
The company focuses on on-demand private flights, aircraft management, and aircraft sales, among other areas. In 2020, the company flew more than 150,000 passengers, utilizing its fleet of over 1,500 owned, managed, and third-party partner aircraft.
While the company reported record revenue in the third quarter, CEO Kenny Dichter cited challenges in meeting the surging demand with the notoriously tight supply of aircraft on the market, as well as the industry-wide challenges of putting pilots in the seats. As a result, the price for membership has also increased.
Major shakeup as large FBO chains change handsIn one of the biggest announcements of the year, Signature Aviation accepted a bid from three investments groups to assume ownership of the largest FBO chain in the world. After an intense bidding war earlier in the year, the three groups joined together to offer a combined $4.7 billion bid.
In June, another large FBO network, Atlantic Aviation, was purchased by an investment company for nearly $4.5 billion. Just a few months later, Atlantic Aviation expanded its profile with a venture into the Caribbean as it merged with Ross Aviation.
Among the most aggressive movers this year has been Modern Aviation, which closed a deal with FBO giant Sheltair to acquire five of its New York-area locations, including those at LaGuardia (KLGA) and John F. Kennedy (KJFK) airports.
The return of in-person aviation eventsWhile COVID-19 created new challenges in 2021, the aviation industry began its flightpath to a new normal with the return of in-person events. Regulations and vaccination status varied from group to group and depended upon the host locations. However, members of the industry were able to gather at NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas as well as Corporate Jet Investor Miami 2021.
NBAA-BACE, held this year at the Las Vegas Convention Center, has arguably one of the highest rates of attendance of any business aviation event in the world. Exhibitors and attendees fly in from around the globe.
As part of its green initiative, NBAA offered a "book-and-claim," transaction this year, which gave those with inbound flights the opportunity to make a purchase towards the production of low carbon SAF, even if SAF is not available from their departing airport.
For flights out of Las Vegas, SAF was available at the nearby Henderson Executive Airport (KHND) or, for the first time, at McCarran International Airport (KLAS).
But the excitement surrounding the event was put on a quick pause as NBAA announced that it would require the COVID-19 vaccine for all attendees and exhibitors at its 2021 convention.
Airshows around the country took their own unique precautions for COVID-19, with some limiting tickets sold while others offered a drive-in format experience. The return of these airshows was welcomed by aviation enthusiasts with open arms.
And as for some of the largest general aviation airshows and fly-ins in the country, they too were cleared for takeoff in 2022 with only a few rule changes.
SUN ‘n FUN kicked off the year in April with 6 days of in-person seminars, attractions, and aircraft displays. Known as "Spring Break for Pilots," aviation enthusiasts flocked to Lakeland, Florida, extremely eager to attend the expo after its cancellation in 2020.
Attendees of the event got a special surprise this year, as the world-renowned U.S. Navy Blue Angels unveiled their new jets - the F/A 18E Super Hornet - with a flight demonstration. The move to the Super Hornet was the first time the Blue Angels have changed aircraft since its transition from the A-4F Skyhawk II to the F/A-18 Hornet 35 years ago in 1986.
In 2020, after the cancellation of the traditional SUN ‘n FUN event, organizers debuted their first Holiday Fly-In that December, a Christmas-themed event unlike any other. The fly-in was so popular in 2020 that it returned even bigger in 2021, now becoming a new annual tradition.
EAA's AirVenture Oshkosh was hit a little harder by the COVID-19 guidelines as it is the largest attended general aviation event in the U.S. Event organizers highly recommended social distancing and masks but did not require proof of COVID vaccination status.
Regardless of these guidelines, AirVenture Oshkosh did not see a decrease in attendees at the 2021 event. The 2022 event is already scheduled and event organizers are looking forward to welcoming more than 10,000 aircraft and 600,000 aviation enthusiasts at the 69th edition of AirVenture Oshkosh.
GlobalAir.com was also excited to bring back its annual AirVenture FBO Specials page, which saw a record amount of fuel specials listed for those flying into or out of the event.
The impact of COVID-19 on aviation in 2021
The not-so-sleeping giant of 2021 has remained the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the industry. While planes remained in hangars for much of 2020, that has changed in 2021, catapulting the world of business aviation into one of its biggest growth cycles in decades as we move into 2022.
While new COVID variants, Delta and Omicron, cause ripples in economic cycles, especially travel, more of the high-net-worth individuals, as well as corporations, who previously flew first class are choosing charter, fractional or aircraft ownership. That, coupled with the global supply-chain shortage, along with generational wealth being accumulated at an earlier age, has led to a perfect storm that has pushed the price of pre-owned aircraft through the roof.
The most recent shipping and billings report by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) for Q3 2021 confirmed once again what the industry has heard over and over this year: the 2021 aircraft world is a red-hot seller's market.
While demand has been frankly overwhelming for aircraft sellers and manufacturers alike, the shortages of parts and people have hindered the manufacturers' abilities. Preowned aircraft inventory remained at an all-time low throughout 2021, while pricing continued to rise.
The value of airplane deliveries through the third quarter of 2021 was $13.4 billion, an increase of approximately 13%.
Aircraft buyers looking to find aircraft in 2021 turned to GlobalAir.com in record numbers. The company beat its own record for monthly aircraft inquiries three times during the year.
Total inquiries - by text, email and PDF download - for aircraft listed for sale on GlobalAir.com in November 2021 outpaced November 2020 by 42%, despite the tight business aircraft market. This came on top of a record third quarter, which resulted in a 49% rise in inquiries, year to year.
Looking ahead to 2022 and what the aviation industry can expect
While the impact of the pandemic on the industry is uncertain as we start a new year, most experts predict a strong 2022 when it comes to the private aircraft market.
In a survey by JetNet IQ presented in October at the NBAA-BACE convention on the 10-year impact of the business aviation industry, two-thirds of respondents agree that light jet orders will make up a higher share of the market compared to the past five years. Additionally, 80% agreed that charter and fractional ownership will sustain its higher demand.
Ultimately, JetNet said that the prospect of buyers both in the new and pre-owned aircraft market is at its highest since at least 2018.
Jetcraft released its 5-Year Pre-Owned Business Aviation Market Forecast in December, predicting pre-owned aircraft transaction volume and value will maintain their current healthy growth rates.
By 2025, pre-owned aircraft transaction volume is expected to achieve a combined annual growth rate of 4% across all jet categories. Pre-owned transaction values, however, are slightly less straightforward over the next five years.
By 2023, Jetcraft predicts transaction values to exceed those in 2018, which was the industry's last peak. But the average transaction value will level off as the world enters a post-pandemic era, with growth predicted to sit around 2% through 2024. There are two reasons for this: first, a tighter supply and demand environment helping to sustain prices, and second, the number of higher-priced large jet transactions will increase, elevating the average value over the next few years.
With COVID-19 variants wreaking havoc around the world, 2022 will surely be full of curveballs that will change the trajectory of every report this year.
But it is important to consider how far the industry has come since the beginning of COVID in 2020. As noted by Travis Kuhn of ARGUS, we went from an industry that saw traffic drop over 70% in April 2020, to an industry that is consistently up 15-20% from 2019.
That isn't to say business aviation won't face its challenges, stemming from the ripple effect of COVID-19 and its multiplying variants. Part 135 and fractional operators are trying to find new jets to meet the demand, but the additional challenge will be finding qualified crews and technicians to support the aircraft.
And to top it all off, corporate aviation will still be dealing with retirements in the airline world that will draw some from corporate to commercial aviation.
"These challenges are real but they will be manageable," Kuhn wrote. "And, for an industry that is forecast to grow 10% in 2022, they will certainly be welcome challenges given where we were."