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2013: Aviation's wild year

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2013 is a year to remember in commercial aviation.

I’ve been covering air transport since 1999 and there have been many years over the last 15 in which global news has had a very significant impact on aviation—from 9/11 to SARS to the Iraq war to rising fuel prices to the 2008 global financial crisis. But there has been no recent year quite like 2013, in which there were a dizzying number of major developments directly related the business of running airlines and the manufacturing of commercial aircraft.

The year got off to a fairly shocking start when a Boeing 787-8 operated by Japan Airlines caught fire while parked at Boston Logan Airport on Jan. 7. Nine days later, FAA grounded the worldwide Dreamliner fleet for more than four three months. Boeing had to come up with a comprehensive fix for the 787’s battery system—the source of the JAL 787 fire—basically on the fly.

But the 787 grounding and re-entry into service were just part of aviation’s memorable year, even for Boeing. The company launched the 787-10 at the Paris Air Show in June and the 777X at the Dubai Air Show in November. It conducted first flight of the 787-9 in September.

Also achieving first flight in 2013 were the Airbus A350 in June and the Bombardier CSeries in September (a day before the 787-9’s first flight).

Other aircraft programs launched this year included Embraer’s second generation E-Jet, the E2, and a larger version of the Bombardier Q400.

In July, a 777-200ER operated by Asiana Airlines crashed on landing at San Francisco International Airport, the first mainline fatal crash on US soil in over a decade. Remarkably, while three fatalities resulted from the accident, more than 300 passengers and crew survived, including flight attendants ejected from the aircraft during the crash sequence.

And of course, on Valentine’s Day no less, American Airlines and US Airways announced a merger agreement to create the world’s largest airline. In August, however, after most regulatory hurdles appeared to have been cleared by the carriers, the US Department of Justice filed a surprise antitrust lawsuit to stop the merger. This led to several weeks of spirited back-and-forth between DOJ and the airlines, to say nothing of an immense number of court filings.

And then, just as a federal trial pitting DOJ against the airlines was about to kick off in Washington DC in November, the sides settled. The mega-merger closed on Dec. 9.

There were numerous other developments of note in 2013 that I won’t get into here, such as Delta Air Lines’ spectacular financial results or Qatar Airways becoming the first major Gulf carrier to join one of the global airline alliances when it became a member of oneworld in October.

But the point I want to emphasize is that 2013 will go down as one of air transport’s more memorable years in recent history. Any one or two of the above-cited major events happening would have made the year fairly remarkable. That so many occurred in 2013 made for one amazing, crazy year in aviation.

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