Norwegian, Aeromexico and Willie Walsh among CAPA Aviation Excellence Award winners

The 2017 CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence were held overnight as part of the CAPA-ACTE Global Summit in London. Now in their 15th year, CAPA’s Aviation Awards for Excellence are intended to reward airlines, airports and individuals that are not only successful but have also provided industry strategic leadership in an always changing environment. Award candidates were independently researched and short-listed by CAPA’s global team of analysts for performance over the past 12 months, and vetted by a small panel of independent industry experts.

Norwegian, jetBlue, airBaltic, TAP Portugal and Cobalt Air scooped the airline awards, while Aeromexico CEO Andres Conesa received executive of the year. Amsterdam, Dublin and Pittsburgh airports were also recognised as leaders across three airport categories and IAG’s Willie Walsh received the prestigious CAPA Legends Award (CAPA Hall of Fame).

CAPA Airline of the Year – Norwegian Air

Norwegian is among the leaders in the long haul, low cost arena in Europe proving that in terms of demand there is a market among price sensitive business and leisure passengers for the model. Imitation is apparently the best form of flattery and that is clear with the increasing number of airlines now looking to adopt its model of using single aisle aircraft to link trans-Atlantic markets.

CAPA Airline Executive of the Year – Aeromexico CEO Andres Conesa

Mr Conesa was named CEO of Aeromexico in 2005, just as a wave of low cost carriers were establishing themselves in Mexico’s growing aviation market. Since that time, Aeromexico has strengthened its balance sheet and overhauled its fleet to become Mexico’s premier global network airline, and the only Latin American operator offering long haul service to both Europe and Asia. The airline has doubled its international capacity since 2010. Under Mr Conesa’s leadership, Aeromexico has forged a deep relationship with one of North America’s leading airlines, Delta, that culminated in the creation of a joint venture launched in 2017 that will produce millions of dollars annually in synergies for Aeromexico. The joint venture will further distinguish Aeromexico’s network superiority from its Latin American rivals.

CAPA Low Cost Airline of the Year – JetBlue

jetBlue was selected for the successful roll out of its premium product Mint. The performance of Mint has surpassed jetBlue’s expectations, and has raised the bar in how US airlines approach developing premium offerings for the US market. Mint was a tool designed to shore up revenue on key US transcontinental markets. Prior to Mint’s launch, jetBlue’s margins on routes from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco were below system average. After Mint debuted in those markets, jetBlue posted double digit monthly revenue on those routes. Mint has expanded from JFK to jetBlue’s focus cities of Boston and Fort Lauderdale. During 2018 the airline will offer the Mint product to more than 80 flights per day on up to 20 routes.

CAPA Regional Airline of the Year – airBaltic

In 2016 airBaltic completed a multi-year restructuring, increased passenger numbers for the first time in five years, secured a capital increase and a private investor, became the launch customer for the Bombardier CS300 and returned to positive EBIT. It is the biggest airline operating out of the Baltic region, with hubs at Tallinn and Vilnius in addition to its main hub at Riga.

CAPA Airline Turnaround of the Year – TAP Portugal 

After restructuring and investment by new shareholders, TAP Portugal returned to profit in 2016 after two years of losses. It has established a new regional airline subsidiary TAP Express and adopted a new fare structure, contributing to resurgent traffic growth in 2017. Its increased confidence on the global stage is reflecting in its developing partnerships with Azul, jetBlue and Hainan.

CAPA Start-up of the Year – Cobalt Air

Launching in mid 2016, Cobalt Air is set to fly more than 800,000 seats in 2017 from two bases in Cyprus to 14 destinations in Europe and the Middle East. Operating an all economy class fleet of leased high density A320 family aircraft, it is already Larnaca’s number two airline by seats. Cobalt Air was quick to exploit the gap left by the exit of Cyprus Airways in this very competitive, leisure-focused market.

CAPA Airport of the year (> 30 million passengers) – Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport continues to demonstrate how a relatively small country can provide a world-beating hub airport, handling over 68 million passengers each year, almost all of them travelling internationally. One of few airports of this size still to employ a single-terminal concept, in conjunction with the six runways it has managed to stay ahead of the growth curve by providing for the increase in low cost passengers.

Medium Airport of the year (<30 million) – Dublin Airport

Dublin Airport has become a premier level hub, one of the fastest growing in Europe, and is competing directly with the major hubs across the continent. A broad range of short and long haul full service and low cost flights are available both to local passengers and those transiting it. It has integrated its US immigration pre-clearance facility successfully and is working towards the implementation of a second runway and associated infrastructure works which will ensure its future prospects.

CAPA Regional Airport of the Year – Pittsburgh International Airport

Pittsburgh International Airport is a copybook definition of how an airport can re-invent itself following the loss of many services of a key hub carrier due to circumstances outside its control by refocusing on point-to-point demand. Working in conjunction with a post-industrial city that has had to make much the same transition with its economy, passenger traffic losses bottomed out in 2013; since then there has been constant growth which may soon touch double digit annual figures. Monthly seat capacity is back over one million for the first time since 2008. A USD1 billion terminal improvement speaks volumes about the outlook.

CAPA Legend Award – Willie Walsh (IAG)

Willie’s focused and strategic management style has served him well at the helm of Aer Lingus, British Airways and IAG, of which he was the lead architect. In both 2015 and 2016, IAG achieved a return on invested capital above its estimated cost of capital, giving it the rare distinction among European legacy airline groups of creating economic value for investors. Like other airlines, its 2016 results were helped by lower fuel prices, but IAG’s strong improvement owes much to Willie Walsh’s determination to stick to his goals, particularly as regards the turnaround of Iberia. IAG was the first among the larger European legacy groups to tackle labour cost restructuring. In addition, its 2013 acquisition of Vueling gave it a strategic advantage over Air France-KLM and Lufthansa in dealing with the short/medium haul threat from LCCs. On long haul, it has eschewed anti-Gulf airline rhetoric with its Qatar Airways partnership, including codeshare, a JV with BA and an equity stake. On the North Atlantic, it is now benefiting from its acquisition of Aer Lingus and its long haul business has also seen the more recent launch of long haul low cost brand LEVEL.