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Centre for Aviation (CAPA), the world’s most trusted source of aviation market intelligence and a part of the Aviation Week Network, announced the winners of its annual aviation Awards for Excellence at gala dinner in Abu Dhabi overnight (28-Nov-2023). Airline recipients of the prestigious awards included Alaska Airlines, Jet2.com, SunExpress, Avianca and Arajet, while London Gatwick Airport, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Querétaro International Airport received the airport awards. Air France CEO Anne Rigail was named Executive of the Year.
Regarded as the pre-eminent awards for strategic excellence in aviation, CAPA’s Aviation Awards for Excellence highlight airlines and airports that are not only successful but have also provided industry leadership in adjusting to a new environment. At a time of industry upheaval, our winners are adopting strategies that offer new directions for others to take up.
The CAPA Awards for Excellence are not driven by customer surveys or sponsorship. They are independently researched by an international panel of judges and CAPA analysts.
CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “The CAPA Awards for Excellence winners have proven themselves to be the biggest standout strategically during the year, had the greatest impact on the development of the airline industry, and have established themselves as leaders and provided a benchmark for others to follow. It is our absolute pleasure to credit these organisations with our highest honours in recognition of their continued efforts throughout the year.”
The category winners have established themselves as leaders among their peers, providing a model of operation that others can aspire to.
  • Airline/Airline Group of the Year
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Low Cost Airline of the Year
  • Jet2.com
  • Regional Airline of the Year
  • SunExpress
  • Airline Turnaround of the Year
  • Avianca Airlines
  • Start-up Airline of the Year
  • Arajet
  • Large Airport of the Year
  • London Gatwick Airport
  • Medium Airport of the Year
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
  • Small Airport of the Year
  • Querétaro International Airport
  • Airline Execuive of the Year
  • Anne Rigail, CEO Air France
Airline of the Year
Alaska Airlines
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards Alaska Airlines as its Airline of the Year for its agility and strategic flexibility in adapting to the changing market conditions of the post-pandemic world, while announcing ambitious targets around its growth, financial health and sustainability performance.
Few airlines can be said to have embodied the hybridisation of aviation better than Alaska Airlines.
The fifth largest airline in the US, Alaska Airlines takes a “low-cost high productivity” approach to its business, which delivers low operating costs while maintaining high levels of customer service and financial strength.
This has paid dividends during the pandemic period and the uncertainty during the recovery. The airline was one of the first in the US to return to profitability, while taking a more measured approach than most when it came to restoring capacity.
Alaska Airlines returned to pre-pandemic levels of flying during early 2023 and is now embarking on an effort to fill out its extensive network across North and Central America. At the same time, it is restructuring its fleet to improve efficiency and costs as it drives towards a fleet of 400+ aircraft by the mid-2020s.
Behind all of this, Alaska Airlines has remained committed to its efforts around sustainability and diversity. This includes a target to become the most fuel-efficient airline in the US and reaching net zero by 2040 – a decade ahead of the wider industry target. It is also innovating in the sustainability space, with plans that link performance-based remuneration for staff to the airline’s overall carbon intensity and tying a portion of executive compensation to diversity efforts.
“Thank you for recognizing all of the work we’re doing at Alaska Airlines to elevate the travel experience and consistently deliver for our guests, employees, investors and communities who depend on us,” said CEO Ben Minicucci. “I’m so proud of the people of Alaska Airlines who show so much care for each other and everyone who flies with us. We have the best team in the world, and we look forward to bringing our style of service and care to even more places. Our future is bright and we’re just getting started.”
Low Cost Airline of the Year
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards Jet2.com as its Low Cost Carrier of the Year for its unique operating model, resilience in the face of challenges, strength of its operational turn-around and ambitious plans for the future.
Few airlines managed to turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity in the way that Jet2.com has.
The UK-based leisure airline and sister company, Jet2holidays, the package holiday provider, has used this operating model to capitalise as travel resumed through the UK and Europe over 2022 and 2023.
As consumers looked to start travelling again Jet2.com’s focus on leisure travel to sun, ski and leisure city destinations across Europe, the Mediterranean and Canary Islands paid dividends.
Jet2 had acted decisively to keep most of its colleagues in place over the worst of the pandemic, which then allowed it to maintain solid operational performance, keep the confidence of its customers and turn recovery into growth in both passengers and profits.
Jet2holidays is now the UK’s largest tour operator and Jet2.com is its third largest airline, with traffic now substantially above pre-pandemic levels. More growth is in the offering, with the carrier receiving the first of 98 A320/A321neo aircraft in Mar-2023, with options to expand its orders to 146.
Jet2 also takes its environmental performance seriously. Its new high capacity A320/A321neo fleet will offer substantially reduced emissions, while also offering more network options. At the same time, the carrier has invested in a new sustainable aviation fuel facility to be built in the UK to ensure that it can reduce its emissions in the long term.
Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, CEO, Steve Heapy, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have won this prestigious award which recognises Jet2.com’s strength and success, as well our industry-leading approach to working with partners and providing VIP customer service. The CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence are truly global, so this accolade is outstanding evidence of the success of our business, our relentless focus on customer service, and our continued commitment to building long-term and mutually beneficial partnerships with airports and destinations.”
Regional Airline of the Year
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards SunExpress as its Regional Airline of the Year for the airline’s remarkable and swift turnaround in the face of trying external circumstances, its rapidly evolving network, and its consistently high levels of service and customer satisfaction.
This award was given to SunExpress, a joint venture of Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines, which has been the biggest standout strategically, established itself as a leader and demonstrated innovation in the regional aviation sector.
With a focus on leisure operations to/from destinations in Turkey, SunExpress has rapidly rebuilt traffic and expanded its fleet, while supporting the country’s tourism markets through recent trying times.
Max Kownatzki, CEO of SunExpress, expressed his delight at the award ceremony and emphasized, “This recognition confirms that SunExpress is flying in the right direction and has already achieved a great deal. We are proud of our accomplishments and our entire team, and we see the award as an incentive to continue on this path. We have not only navigated the highs and lows with agility, flexibility, and resilience, but also achieved strong growth despite some of the most significant crises in aviation history.”
SunExpress managed to quickly revitalize traffic after the pandemic and returned to profitability in 2021. The airline was already offering more capacity in 2022, operating at 122% of ASKs compared to the pre-pandemic level of 2019. The same year, the carrier had the biggest network and fleet expansion and achieved an all-time passenger record in its history.
Originally focused on routes between German speaking countries (DACH: Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and Türkiye, SunExpress has transformed its network in recent years. It has diversified its markets to embrace more routes across Western and Central Europe, while also adding connections into Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Beyond the existing capacity on DACH-Türkiye routes, the airline continues to expand its network, including new destinations in Central and Western Europe, the United Kingdom, and Central Asia. Currently, SunExpress is operating 175 routes into more than 30 countries.
Operating with 66 aircraft, SunExpress plans to more than double its fleet, reaching up to 150 aircraft into the next decade.”
Airline Turnaround of the Year
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards Avianca as its Turnaround of the Year for the airline remarkable recovery from bankruptcy to operational profitability in the last three years, while reinventing its operating model and entering an ambitious regional aviation partnership.
Restructuring and restoring the world’s second oldest operating airline brand while dealing with a global pandemic is a remarkable achievement.
Avianca filed for bankruptcy in 2020, with the Colombian airline having already launched a restructuring and turnaround strategy in 2019 due to heavy debt loads and marginal liquidity.
Avianca’s bankruptcy restructuring has seen the airline emerge as a leaner and more focused enterprise. Debt levels have been substantially reduced, while new investment has been attracted. The airline’s operational model has been transformed from its legacy options. It has embraced a hybrid model to remain competitive on routes within the Americas, while retaining some of its previous premium focus on long haul intercontinental routes.
In doing this, Avianca has simplified and slimmed down its fleet, while refurbishing its short/medium haul fleet in-house to increase seat densities and refine its onboard product. This includes new premium seat offerings and a new fare structure alongside it.
In terms of wider strategy, the airline has collaborated with the Brazilian LCC GOL on the formation of ‘Grupo Abra’, securing substantial fresh investment in the process. Together these two airlines will be able to better compete across Latin America, combining Avianca’s extensive connections between Colombia, Central America and Ecuador, with GOL’s leading share of Brazil’s domestic market.
Avianca CEO Adrian Neuhauser said: “Avianca’s turnaround has been the result of the hard work and commitment of each and every one of our 13,000 employees; of the confidence of our investors, who have entrusted us with their capital and allowed us to build and empower a world-class management team to reinvent one of the world’s longest-lived airlines; of the support of our partners, including travel agents, OEMs, lessors, suppliers, airports, and authorities; and, of course, of the loyalty and commitment of our passengers, who each and every day place their journeys in our hands. We are grateful to all of them for their key role in our success and we look forward to continuing to work together for many years to come. A special thank-you to CAPA for this recognition, which is tremendously meaningful to our management team as we put our restructuring years behind us.”
Start-Up of the Year
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards Arajet as its Start-up of the Year. The ULCC has shown that innovation and pioneering spirit can work together to produce rapid change in aviation markets. With ambitious fleet and network plans in place, the airline is already maturing into a significant player in Caribbean aviation.
As an ultra-low cost carrier and the national carrier for the Dominican Republic, Arajet launched operations in Sep-2022. The ambitious start-up has already started to make an impact in the Caribbean aviation market. Arajet has pioneered new destinations from the Dominican Republic, with just three of its initial 20 destinations featuring direct competition for the airline.
Building its fleet to six Boeing 737 MAX aircraft within the first 12 months of operation, the airline operates to 12 countries throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
Arajet handled more than 150,000 passengers in the six months since launch, and forecasts at least 500,000 passengers in its first full year of operations.
Innovative from the outset, Arajet has embraced AI technologies and built relationships with leading technology and distribution firms to ensure optimisation of its operations and revenue from the outset.
Arajet will continue to enhance air connectivity for the Dominican Republic and the wider Caribbean, actively engaging with regional governments to develop its network while growing its fleet. With network plans for into North and South America, the airline is looking to develop Santo Domingo as a regional connecting hub.
Arajet, CEO and Founder, Victor Pacheco, said: “We are very proud of this award, which is a recognition of a dream come true. Arajet is the story of a start-up that was born from the desire that the Dominican diaspora could travel to our country at low prices. Today that dream is much bigger because we have turned the Dominican Republic into the new Hub of the American Continent, connecting 22 destinations in 16 countries that allow more than 150 connecting possibilities, in just one year. We thank you for this award as it praises the efforts of more than 400 Arajet employees who have worked hard to make this a reality, and more than half a million passengers who have already flown with us.”
Executive of the Year
Anne Rigail, CEO Air France
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards Anne Rigail, CEO of Air France, as its Airline Executive of the Year for her efforts to reinvent and restructure the French national carrier while leading enhancements to the airline’s customer proposition and leading aviation sustainability efforts.
Anne Rigail took the role of CEO at Air France in December 2018 – the first female to do so in the company’s history.
With experience across ground and air roles at the French national carrier, she came into the job at a difficult time with the French domestic market turning down and reform needed to realign the airline’s strategy, network and fleet.
Ms Rigail has managed to introduce major changes at the airline to enhance its product and simplify its network and operating model, while also steering Air France through the depths of the COVID-19 crisis. The airline has emerged from the pandemic in robust financial health, while also turning to innovative measures to fully repay the state aid which supported it during the worst of the coronavirus downturn.
As part of the wider Air France-KLM Group, Air France has also expanded its strategic flexibility under Ms Rigali’s leadership. The Air France-KLM Group has pivoted to using its LCC unit to pioneer route development and meet medium-haul demand growth, while also taking strategic stakes in European airlines and entering new partnerships with airlines outside Europe.
At the same time, Air France has been taking a leading role in Europe’s drive towards more sustainable aviation, not only participating in emissions reductions initiatives, but also launching projects on its own.
Under Ms Rigail’s leadership, Air France has committed to major purchases of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, supporting the development and commercialisation of SAF needed to promote widespread adoption. She has also remained committed to the airline’s diversity efforts.
Large Airport of the Year
London Gatwick Airport
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards London Gatwick Airport as its Large Airport of the Year for the airport’s remarkable recovery in the face of post-pandemic issues and its innovative plans for the future to secure its position as a key regional hub.
One of the major hubs to one of the most connected cities in the world, London Gatwick has the unenviable distinction of operating the busiest single runway in Europe.
After suffering the largest fall in passenger numbers of any of the UK’s major airport – losing a number of key airlines and routes in the process – London Gatwick Airport has pulled itself back both in terms of traffic and overall operational performance. Passenger traffic in 2022 recovered at nearly twice the rate of London Heathrow’s, even as the airport had to deal with a range of post-pandemic travel recovery related issues.
Gatwick has collaborated with existing and new airlines to expand its network coverage and improve connectivity. Existing airlines have reinforced their network, while established airlines and start-ups have added services or expanded their connections.
The airport is now moving to secure its future as a major regional hub with an innovative plan to overcome its operational limitations when it comes to runway and ATC capacity. London Gatwick has revealed plans to resume operation of its northern runway, under an innovative scheme that will allow it to double its capacity by 2030 while also minimising impact on surrounding communities.
Medium Airport of the Year
Austin Airport
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards Austin Airport as its Medium Airport of the Year. The airport has shown a remarkable turnaround from the travails of the pandemic to become one of the fastest growing airports in the US. With an admirable commitment to the spirit of its home city seen across its campus and facilities, Austin Airport is now embarking on a series of major improvements which will allow it to serve demand and transform itself for the future.
Few airports in the US can claim to have turned their fortunes around as rapidly and as thoroughly in the post-pandemic period as Austin Airport.
After seeing traffic down by 45% in 2020, the airport has not only rebuilt throughput to beyond 2019 levels, but has seen traffic grow almost 40% above this.
Primarily a domestic facility, Austin plays a major role in the networks of Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. With 65 connections across the US and another dozen international routes, Austin has come a long way from its routes as an air force base and now serves as a pivotal hub for air transport in central Texas.
To accommodate growth, Austin has launched the ‘Journey with AUS’ expansion, development and improvement programme. This far-reaching capital improvement programme is being developed with extensive community input and is intended to transform the experience at the airport for users and travellers alike.
“On behalf of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport team, thank you for recognizing our airport community’s significant investments in nonstop service.” Said Jim Smith, Interim AUS Chief Executive Officer. “The world is open to Austin and Central Texas and we’re thrilled to welcome travelers from across the globe. We’re committed to furthering our relationships with our incredible airline partners, especially as we enter a new era of transformation and modernization for our facilities through our expansion program. We look forward to improving our airport and rising to the challenge of meeting the needs of our dynamic, ever-growing Central Texas region all while providing a safe, reliable and environmentally sound airport for all.”
Small Airport of the Year
Querétaro Intercontinental Airport 
CAPA – Centre for Aviation awards Querétaro Intercontinental Airport as its Small Airport of the Year for its resilience during the downturn, innovation during recovery, and commitment to enhancing its performance and sustainability for the future.
Querétaro Intercontinental Airport has been among the leaders of the remarkable post-pandemic fortunes of Mexico’s aviation market.
Traffic at the airport was fully recovered before the end of 2022 – thanks largely to its strong domestic connectivity. For 2023, passenger traffic had passed 2019 levels before the end of September.
The airport has historically been one of several that serve Mexico City’s immense air travel market, but it is playing increasingly important economic and tourist development roles for the State of Querétaro and the rest of the country. Particularly noteworthy is the airport’s growing role as a regional hub, building connections to tourist markets in North America, and as a cargo destination with a major investment by a leading freight operator.
Operating under a JV arrangement between the State of Querétaro and ‘Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares’ (ASA) the airport is leading innovation in technology and sustainability. The state government is “very keen” to promote sustainable aviation and is working with local and international partners to develop a sustainable aviation fuel facility at the airport. At the same time, Querétaro Airport is using technology to drive its growth as is seeks to expand its network even further abroad.