Tracking the Evolution of airlines: 2019-2023

In 2019, 256 new airlines entered the industry (listing scheduled capacity for the first time) and continued to operate up to 2023. However, 20% (50 airlines) of the original 256 failed to file any capacity this year, highlighting the tough challenge of managing airline start-ups.

Every year there are a series of new start-ups entering the market and a few airlines that for whatever reason cease trading, it’s the natural evolution of the airline industry. In this blog, we have tracked airlines - from pre-pandemic to 2023 - that have been launched and continue to operate, and those that have disappeared either in name or operation.

There have been various reasons why some airlines have failed to continue to operate in 2023 – some sadly failed due to the war in Ukraine, some transitioned from scheduled to charter services, and some just completely disappeared; can anyone remember OCL Barbados or Gran Colombia de Aviacion for instance?

Largest Airlines Launched Since 2019

Amongst the list of carriers that have succeeded, there are one or two airlines that for whatever reason made subtle name changes to their organisation and some that just changed their names (again in a few cases), Lufthansa and ITA Airways are both top of mind and top of the charts. There are also other carriers that have been established that fulfil a regulatory requirement of a larger company, perhaps as part of a genuine expansion strategy or perhaps as part of an attempt to restructure the whole business for some other purpose; Wizz Air Malta falling into that category.

The table below highlights the largest 15 airlines that have in some form emerged, changed name, or restructured since 2019 - with the vast majority of carriers either being renamed entities, part of that wider restructuring process we noted earlier or more positively expansionary steps. Indeed, the only genuinely new carrier in that 15 still trading is Breeze Airways since Go Air/ First ceased operations in early October.

Largest Airlines to Disappear Since 2019

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those that were operating in 2019 but have now ceased trading. In the table below, we have removed airlines that by virtue of name changes etc are in the table above, and only listed those that have truly dropped off the radar.

  • Ukraine International heads this list, unfortunately, although they will in time be active once again and producing similar levels of capacity.
  • Thomas Cook was sadly a casualty even before the pandemic and Comair the former BA franchise operation in South Africa finally ceased trading in the same year.
  • Others such as Tigerair Australia were consumed in an organisational adjustment while Blue Air and Mango struggled to rebuild after Covid-19.

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Getting to Size is So Important

Aside from those airlines that have either launched or disappeared since 2019 there are a number that have both started and stopped, Swiftair swiftly ceased operating, Pivot Airlines pivoted to charter services and One Airways operated flights for well, one year! Alongside these carriers that made it to the runway, many start-ups just failed to get their engines started including a reincarnated Monarch Airlines.

Airline start-ups are incredibly difficult, cash rapidly disappears and securing the necessary operating licences frequently takes longer than expected and that’s even before sourcing aircraft, securing slots, avoiding the competition, and building all the necessary reservations systems and back-office support functions. 

Indeed, the evidence suggests that in most cases new airlines are either reincarnations of existing operators or - in very few cases - have been created by previously successful CEOs who continue to love the smell of Kerosene! The last five years have proven both just how difficult it can be to start a new airline and how resilient those airlines that continue to operate really are. 

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