Flybe Collapse And 747 Retirements – 2020 Was Hard On UK Aviation

2020 was a challenging year for aviation across the globe. This has prompted an unexpected situation for all airlines, especially in the United Kingdom. From bankruptcies to retiring the Queen of the Skies, let us take a look at the major themes in UK aviation this year.

London Airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, Southend
2020 has been a challenging year for UK aviation. Photo: Getty Images

British Airways

We’ll start with the UK’s largest carrier, which would always form part of a recap on the country’s aviation. 2020 seemed to get off to a good start for the British flag carrier who began the year offsetting 100% of CO2 produced by its domestic flights.

british airways a380
British Airways parked its entire fleet of Airbus A380s. Photo: Getty Images

Things soon took a turn for the worst as the airline began canceling flights to China and Italy. At the height of the crisis, the airline was only operating a skeleton service. With fewer flights to run for the foreseeable future, 2020 saw the airline retire its last Boeing 747 four years early. However, staff members were also affected, with many saying goodbye to a job that they loved.

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Virgin Atlantic

Over on the other side of Heathrow, things weren’t much better for Virgin Atlantic. While British Airways always kept at least a skeleton service flying, this wasn’t the case for their rival, who completely suspended passenger operations for several months.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, 2020
Virgin Atlantic stopped passenger flights altogether at one point. Photo: Vincenzo Pace –

Like British Airways, Virgin also had to make some tough decisions, including job cuts, retiring its last 747 early, and ending operations at its London Gatwick home. At one point, the airline’s future looked in doubt as it filed for bankruptcy protection in August. Since then, things have improved drastically following restructuring.


The same could not be said about UK regional airline Flybe, who suspended operations in early March as they entered administration. The loss of the UK’s purple airline left a massive dent in the UK’s regional connectivity. While administration is the end of the road for many airlines, this may not be the case for Flybe. This month, Simple Flying reported that the airline’s owner had applied for a new Air Operator Certificate.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, 2020
Unfortunately, Flybe didn’t make it three months into the year. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

What about at Airports?

In April, there wasn’t much to cheer about for the UK’s airports. Analysis of passenger movements by Simple Flying showed that the capital’s fifth airport, London Luton, was busier than Gatwick and Stansted. Many airports had to close terminals and reduce opening hours. However, this has seen more variety at Heathrow Terminal 5. The light loads did allow for runway maintenance to take place, given the vast gaps in usage.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, 2020
Luton was busier than Stansted and Gatwick at one point in the crisis. Photo: London Luton Airport

In the summer, the airports were dealt a new blow as the UK government introduced a mandatory two-week quarantine for all arrivals. This has since been relaxed to ten days with a handful of travel corridors and a test to release scheme. Although, even that didn’t get off to a great start.

Have we missed anything? What would you say was the most significant moment for UK aviation in 2020? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!