The world’s top aviation leaders announced at the CAPA World Aviation Awards for Excellence

Featured Press Release

CAPA – Centre for Aviation (CAPA), the world’s most trusted source of aviation market intelligence and a part of the Aviation Week Network, recognised United Airlines, Viva Aerobus, PLAY, Loganair and leaders from Emirates Airline and Wizz Air at the 2022 CAPA World Aviation Awards for Excellence in Gibraltar this evening (01-Dec-2022).

The award winners were presented at a gala dinner aboard the Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar, attended by over 150 of the region’s aviation luminaries and part of the 2022 CAPA World Aviation Summit.  

Regarded as the pre-eminent awards for strategic excellence in aviation, CAPA first established the awards in 2003, to recognise successful airlines and airports across the world. 

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “The CAPA World Aviation Awards for Excellence are intended to recognise strategic leadership and success across airlines, airports, executives and the wider aviation industry. The winners include organisations that are not only delivering results 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”.

Airline Winners

Airline of the Year: United Airlines

United Airlines has raised the bar in sustainability for airlines, having invested in numerous companies that are working to create ways to help it achieve its goal of net zero emissions by 2050. 

The company has established United Airlines Ventures, whose vast portfolio includes SAF produces and other companies that are creating technology for carbon utilisation, hydrogen-electric engines, air taxis and electric regional aircraft.

In addition to its leadership in sustainability, United is also distinguishing itself from its competitors by recently delivering the best third quarter operational performance in the airline’s history. The use of its ConnectionSaver tool resulted in the saving of more than 135,000 customer connections during that time period. 

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic United has often taken a different view of the recovery, and recently forged a strategic partnership with Emirates Airline. The new relationship reflects United’s ability to quickly adapt to market conditions and evolve its thinking as market realities change. That adaptability will continue to serve United as it seeks to become the airline of choice in the US

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “CAPA is pleased to award United Airlines the Airline of the Year for 2022 for its work in the crucial field of sustainability, market innovation, flexibility and long-term thinking”.

LCC of the Year: Viva Aerobus

The Mexican ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) Viva Aerobus was one of the few airlines worldwide to fully restore its capacity in record time amid the COVID-19 pandemic that upended the global aviation industry. 

By year-end 2020 the airline’s available seat kilometres were slightly above 2019 levels. In FY  2022, the airline is expecting its passenger number to grow by around 80% when compared to 2019. Viva Aerobus has also staked a claim as Mexico’s second largest domestic airline measured by passengers carried.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the airline has taken advantage of changes in the Mexican market by expanding at its main hubs at Mexico City and Monterrey as well as in other important bases such as Cancun, Guadalajara and Tijuana.

The company is also stretching the boundaries of the typical ULCC model through is proposed first of a kind Joint Venture with Allegiant Air. Viva Aerobus and Allegiant are forging a one-of-a-kind transborder joint venture between the two lost cost carriers in the MexicoUS transborder market of over 30M annual passengers.  Allegiant is investing USD $50 million in the Mexican low cost airline. 

Viva Aerobus’ combination of low fares and friendly customer service have resulted in the airline’s passenger number growing an impressive 38% for the first ten months of 2022 vs 2021 while increasing its revenues around 50%.

Juan Carlos Zuazua, CEO of Viva Aerobus said “On behalf of the entire Viva team, I am very grateful for this recognition, it represents the huge effort made by the team during the last very tough two years. We are very committed to continue growing our business while maintaining the lowest cost of the Americas so we can continue offering the lowest fares, and the best customer service.“

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “For its rapid recovery, resilience and ability to innovate and develop new partnerships in the face of changing circumstances, CAPA is delighted to award Viva Aerobus the LCC of the Year for 2022.”

Executive of the Year: Sir Tim Clark

Few people can be said to have changed the way that the world connects.

However, as one of the founding members of the executive team of Dubai-based Emirates and a visionary for the future of air transport, Sir Tim Clark has helped to transform global passenger flows.

After a decade in the aviation industry, Sir Tim joined Emirates in 1985 as Head of Airline Planning. As part of a team of just 10, he charted out the airline’s initial fleet, network and development plans and helped to shape its early growth. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Emirates became one of the world’s fastest growing and most profitable airlines, before embarking on a global network expansion in the mid to late 1990s.

By 2003 Sir Tim was appointed President of Emirates and led the airline as it expanded into a truly global business. Under his leadership, Emirates introduced a network touching six continents, set new standards for passenger experience and operational performance and diversified its business across the aviation supply chain.

In leading Emirates’ development, he has also helped to catalyse the development of the long-haul sixth freedom model in the Middle East. This has changed the map of world aviation, pulling millions of passengers every year through convenient and geographically advantageous hubs.

In recent years he has charted Emirates’ course through the travails of the COVID-19 pandemic, delaying his retirement to do so. As Emirates emerges strongly from the pandemic, Sir Tim has returned the airline to a state fitting of his legacy and ready for his eventual successor.

Emirates Airlines, President, Sir Tim Clark, said: “There were dark days in the past 2 years, but I’ve also found it exciting to see our industry reshape and adapt, demonstrating the resilience of civil aviation. We saw new partnerships forged, and the acceleration of digital and other progressive initiatives which will lay the foundation for our industry’s future. I’d like to thank CAPA for this recognition, which I humbly accept on behalf of everyone at Emirates. Our remarkable recovery is certainly not a one-man effort.”

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “For not only his work as an outstanding aviation leader for the last five decades but also his engaging in what is believed to be a transformative new partnership with United, CAPA is honoured to award Sir Tim the Airline Executive of the Year.”

**In 2022, CAPA decided to award two Executives of the Year as there were many deserving winners**

Executive of the Year: Jozsef Varadi

Co-founder and CEO of Central and Eastern European low cost carrier Wizz Air, Jozsef Varadi has spent more than two decades at the forefront of aviation in Europe. Departing as CEO of Malev in 2003, Mr Varadi launched Wizz Air in 2004. By 2008 Wizz Air had handled 10 million passengers and in 2015 the airline went public, with a listing on the London Stock Exchange.

On the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wizz Air was the third largest LCC in Europe and the continent’s seventh largest individual airline.

When COVID-19 hit, Jozsef Varadi was one of the few airline entrepreneurs who truly managed to turn a crisis into an opportunity. During 2020 Wizz Air kept much of its operations intact, and temporarily managed to become Europe’s largest airline by passengers.

By the middle of 2021 Wizz Air had fully recovered capacity to pre-pandemic levels, adding capacity across its Central and Eastern European home markets, as well as in other European markets like the UK, Scandinavia and Italy.

Beyond that, Wizz Air continued to innovate through the crisis.

In 2020 it launched a cargo unit and also entered a partnership with Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company to establish a new unit in the Middle East. Subsequently, it has announced plans for a Maltese unit and is looking at further expansion in the Middle East with a potential unit in Saudi Arabia.

Wizz Air, Group Chief Executive Officer, Jozsef Varadi said: “This award recognises the achievements of the entire company and the hard-work and commitment of our crew, our operations staff, executive team and our commercial partners. It’s through their efforts that we have created a high-performing and resilient airline. Wizz Air has a very exciting future ahead it: we have the financial strength and strategy to drive continued growth and I’m certain that the best has yet to come.”

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “For his work in leading Wizz Air through the global pandemic and turning it into opportunity, as well his continued focus on environmental sustainability ensuring a win as CAPA’s Global Sustainability Airline of the Year for 2022, CAPA is delighted to award Mr Varadi the Airline Executive of the Year for 2022.”

Start-up of the Year: PLAY

It is not often that you get a second chance in aviation, but essential that you learn from your mistakes.

The Icelandic start-up PLAY has done just that, taking all the positives of the business model that had seen its predecessor WOWair evolve as a competitor to Icelandair, serving not just local demand into Europe and North America but also the huge trans-Atlantic market, using Iceland’s favourable location to its advantage.

The airline’s management have been careful not to fall into the trap of its predecessor, opting for growth at a sensible rate and avoiding the introduction of widebodies and flights into alternative geographic markets. What’s more, they have also repositioned the airline for the future with technology and sustainability as two key pillars of its business strategy.

Formed ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, PLAY delayed its launch into Jun-2021 to avoid lockdowns and take advantage of market conditions and the recovery of air travel. It has recently added an eighth A320neo family aircraft to its fleet (with two more to arrive ahead of summer 2023) and serves a network of almost 25 destinations on either side of the Atlantic.

The coming years will remain a challenge for the airline but it is already proving resilient to the tough trading conditions, reporting an operating profit in 3Q2022 and holding a strong booking pipeline for winter 2022/23 and 2023. As its revenue base matures and the airline becomes more established in its operation and markets, the intensity of its pressures should ease as it transitions from its start-up phase.

Play, CEO, Birgir Jónsson, said: “It is such an honour for PLAY to be selected Start up of the Year. This is a recognition that goes first and foremost to the amazing employees of PLAY that have worked so hard getting this airline started in the toughest of times. I have seen that they do it because they love the airline industry and the enthusiasm shines through in everything they do. I look forward to every day working with this amazing team and it is safe to say that this is just the start of the journey we are on.”

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “Launching a new airline in any situation is a feat to be recognised, however, to do so in the toughest of conditions and deliver is exceptional. CAPA is pleased to award PLAY the Start-up of the Year for 2022.”

Regional Airline of the Year: Loganair

Loganair celebrated its 60th anniversary in February of this year, but up until recently the airline was not well-known outside its home market. That is Scotland, where for a long time it has maintained essential air connectivity to the islands on the UK’s northern periphery. 

It is now the largest regional airline in the UK by passenger numbers and fleet size, having grown its network across the UK and into Europe independently since exiting a franchise agreement with Flybe in 2017.   

Once again under its own brand, it still supports its historic roots, including operating the world's shortest scheduled commercial route between Westray Airport and Papa Westray Airport – a distance of just 1.7 miles – as well as flying the world’s only scheduled service to a beach runway on the island of Barra.  

Managing a complex network of services – which also includes flights into London Heathrow – is a challenge, but the airline has remained agile and has moved quickly to backfill routes and maintain essential regional connectivity following the collapse of other operators including its former franchise partner. 

The privately owned business is now on the market: Loganair confirmed in Oct-2022 that the existing sole owners, brothers Stephen (age 72) and Peter Bond (age 61), are seeking a buyer to act as the company's "custodian for the next generation". 

Chief Executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “We’re absolutely delighted to receive CAPA’s Regional Airline of the Year award.   It’s a testament to the hard work of all of Loganair’s 900-strong team that we’ve been able to navigate our way through two of the toughest years in Loganair’s 60-year history and be one of the airlines to emerge rapidly and strongly from the Covid-19 pandemic.  I’m grateful to the judges for recognising these achievements and extend my sincere thanks to every member of our team for their continued efforts and support.”

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “A staple of aviation in the UK, Loganair has proved itself a driving force behind regional connectivity. It is our pleasure to award Loganair the 2022 recipient of the CAPA Regional Airline of the Year”

Innovation of the Year: FLYR Labs

FLYR Labs has helped bring airline revenue planning and pricing management into the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science.

The rapidly growing global company, headquartered in California, has developed The Revenue Operating System®, which applies advanced and intuitive technologies to some of the most difficult problems airlines face.

FLYR’s cloud-native solution uses complex global data to provide accurate forecasting for demand, revenue, load factor, and pricing. It leverages deep learning technology, a cutting-edge form of AI, to unify travel and transportation data, enabling smarter decision making for transportation leaders.

Applying this technology to airlines’ own data gives them greater context and better quality information and analysis, allowing them to improve operations, enhance commercial decision-making, and drive better outputs overall. The solution helps customers unlock business-wide revenue, even in the most unstable times.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented airline operating environment it created proved the value of FLYR’s solution. With airlines facing new passenger requirements and unprecedented volatility in their markets, legacy systems and models built on historical data had only limited relevance.

In comparison, FLYR’s AI-driven Revenue Operating System allowed for the rapid development of new models to support forecasting and essential business decisions when airlines needed support the most.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by CAPA for the work we’re doing at FLYR to help airlines transform the way they do business,” said Alex Mans, founder and CEO of FLYR. “Our unique partnership with our customers has helped guide us toward building a solution that will change the travel and transportation industry. This award is a credit to our entire team and their hard work, ingenuity, and dedication to addressing our customers’ needs.”

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “FLYR Labs is a well-deserving winner of the CAPA Innovation of the Year. From humble beginnings to its development of The Revenue Operating System and work in bringing AI and deep learning into airline planning, FLYR Labs has proved itself a force in the industry.”

Large Airport of the Year: iGA Istanbul Airport

Projected to be the biggest hub in Europe, and eventually to cater for approximately 150 million passengers p/a once fully operational in 2028, the USD36 billion iGA Istanbul Airport opened in Oct-2018, and then to all passenger services in Apr-2019.

Even before its opening it had to handle the demands of a powerful environmental lobby on account of its location along the Black Sea coast covered by woods, lakes, and coastal sand dunes.

It responded admirably to that challenge by way of the efforts of its CEO-led Sustainability Committee, receiving LEED Gold Certification and Level 3 'Optimisation' airport carbon accreditation from Airports Council International (ACI). Subsequently the CEO, Kadri Samsunlu was elected as a member of ACI World's board of directors. The airport also won the 'Eco-Innovation' awards at the 18th ACI Europe Awards.

It then had to deal with the impact of the pandemic, which could not have come at a worse time.

Nevertheless, it rose to that challenge too, building routes and frequencies and becoming Europe’s busiest airport in 2021. It has handled over 53 million passengers for the year to the end of Oct-2022, an 82% increase over 2021, and the airport expects over 60 million passengers by year-end 2022, which will be 85% of 2019 levels. The airport anticipates 73 million passengers in 2023.

Benefitting from its location, it presents a serious and continuing challenge to the Gulf airports as a global hub.

Along the way it has won service quality awards and commendations already, from Condé Nast Traveler ('the world's best airport'), Global Traveler magazine ('Best Airport for Layovers' and 'Most Family-Friendly International Airport'), and Travel & Leisure Magazine.

iGA Istanbul Airport, CEO, Mr. Kadri Samsunlu, said: “We are delighted to hear that İGA Istanbul Airport has been voted “CAPA Large Airport of the Year” for 2022. It is an honour to receive this award, because it is an acknowledgement of our airport for its successful operations during turbulent times and its leadership in adjusting to a new environment in which our industry operates today.”

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “No airport in the world has adapted to changing circumstances while maintaining excellence in operations and passenger service quite like iGA Istanbul Airport. It is for this reason we are delighted to award the Large Airport of the Year to iGA Istanbul Airport.”

Small Airport of the Year: Rzeszow Jasionka Airport

Rzeszów (pronounced Zhay-shorf) Jasionka is a relatively small airport in south-eastern Poland, which some people may not even have heard of.

Nevertheless, it has risen to considerable prominence this year on account of the sudden and urgent demands of a humanitarian crisis brought about by the war in Ukraine, which has prompted Poland to accept almost eight million refugees since the beginning of the conflict.

The small city of Rzeszów is one of the closest to Ukraine, and with the Lviv Airport in that country closed, Rzeszów Jasionka has taken on a hugely significant role in the evacuation of refugees. It has also played a vital role as a reception point for incoming aid and associated workers, bestowing great responsibility on it.

At the same time, the airport is trying to behave as ‘normally’ as possible, increasing its route network and benefitting from the established presence of LOT Polish Airlines, Ryanair and Wizz Air in particular.

It broke its own passenger traffic records during the summer, with 211% growth recorded in 2022 up to the end of Oct-2022 and a monthly average of 100,000 passengers now easily within reach.

Despite the humanitarian work its biggest growth is in ‘sun’ vacation destinations – during the northern summer holiday period in 2022 the airport served 23 destinations to 12 countries, with more than 80 rotations per week.

These activities also help the fast-growing city-region develop as a tourist destination in its own right. Its Old Town, Main Market Square, churches and synagogues are among the best preserved in the country, and a strong academic presence gives it a powerful cultural vibe.

Collectively, these recent activities will ensure that it remains ‘on the map’ long after the conflict in Ukraine is over.

Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, Vice President, Michal Tabisz said: "First and foremost, this award is a tribute to those who have been tirelessly working - since the very first day after Ukraine was invaded - in order to support people in need. It was not only Rzeszow airport staff but also air traffic controllers, flight crews, aircraft technicians, cargo logistics and many others who contributed to this unprecedented effort. I can assure you that we will continue this mission, while constantly expanding our international and domestic route network".

CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Content & Marketing Director, Marco Navarria said: “For its ability to rise to the circumstances thrust upon it, CAPA is pleased to award Rzeszow Jasionka Airport the Small Airport of the Year.”


About CAPA – Centre for Aviation

CAPA - Centre for Aviation (CAPA), part of Aviation Week Network, is the leading provider of independent aviation market intelligence, analysis and data services covering worldwide developments.

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