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4 Airlines That Made Profit in 2020 — And Here’s how!

For most airlines, 2020 was the most devastating year with unbelievable losses. However, a few airlines managed to close the pandemic year with profits. Here are four airlines that made a profit in 2020 and how they achieved it!

Airline That Make Profit — Or Flying Faster Than the Light?

In August 2020, the Arab News asked a manager from Qatar Airways if he believes that any passenger airline can close the year with a financial profit. He answered with “no” and added that he thinks it is more likely that humanity will manage to travel faster than the light in 2020. In other words, he felt that there is absolutely zero chance for an airline to close the year profitable.

Although we still can’t travel faster than light, five airlines made the impossible possible. Unsurprisingly, the majority (3 out of 4) of the airlines are Asian carriers. That perfectly fits the situation we described with some of our latest blog posts about Asia’s aviation dominance. Here are a few examples:

How Airlines Managed to Make Profit in 2020?

Let’s first look at the “how” before we dive into the list of four airlines that closed 2020 with a positive financial result. As already mentioned, the profitable airlines are mainly based in Asia. And since Corona’s impact on Asia turned out to be lower than Europe and Asia, Asian airlines had a slightly better starting point. However, it needed more to close the year with a profit than being an Asian airline. One essential aspect lies in quick adaption to the new situation — either by focusing on cargo operations, domestic traffic, or specific niches. Especially cargo operations played an important role. Airlines which quickly and early modified their fleets were able to secure higher revenues. Domestic traffic, on the other hand, created the necessary base income for some airlines.

4 Airlines That Made Profit in 2020

China Airlines

Taiwan’s China Airlines was super quick in switching to cargo operations. As a result, the airline closed the year with an operating profit of $76.3m. The main driver, of course, was cargo with revenues up 87% year on year. Not only did it make the most of its 14-strong 747-400 freighter fleet, but it has also operated more than 1,000 cargo flights a month since April 2020 on passenger aircraft. In addition, it has further developed its e-commerce platform, while its passenger division focuses on charter flights for now.

Airlines that made profit in 2020 — China Airlines
China Airlines Aircraft — By N509FZ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Airline Background
China Airlines is one of two major Taiwanese airlines. The airline is headquartered in Taipei and operates a fleet of 83 aircraft. China Airlines is both member of SkyTeam and SkyTeam Cargo. Including cargo destinations, the airline operates to more than 100 destinations in Asia, Europe, and North America.


Korean Air

Korean Air is another Asian carrier among the list of airlines that made a profit in 2020. At its board meeting in February 20212, the airline a positive result of USD 219 million in operating profit. Although passenger sales were down 74% YOY, cargo sales jumped 66& compared to 2019. Korean Air increased the operation rate of freighters and utilized idle passenger planes. The main driver for cargo sales was a high demand for COVID-19 diagnostic kits and automobile parts. Nonetheless, Korean Air’s profit was only possible due to a company-wide cost-cutting program.

Airline Background
Korean Air is the largest airline and flag carrier of South Korea. The airline is headquartered in Seoul and operates a fleet of almost 160 aircraft. Korean Air is SkyTeam and SkyTeam Cargo member. In addition, the carrier operates 150 international routes to every continent.

airline that made profit in 2020 — Korean Air
Korean Air Airbus A380 — By Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland

Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines is one of the carriers nobody had on its “profitable airlines betting slip.” However, the airline says it has generated USD 3.3 billion in annual revenues, resulting in a positive result. Nevertheless, we need to consider two specific aspects about Ethiopian Airlines. First, although the airline states a profit for 2020, no official figures can be found. Moreover, worth mentioning that Ethiopian’s financial year ends in July. Accordingly, the months from August to December 2020 are not included.

However, Chief Executive Officer Tewolde Gebre-Mariam was quoted, “we may not be as profitable as we expected, but we registered some profit…the cargo business has also done very well.” The largest airline in Africa has also kept going by running up to 40 repatriation charters each week, at the same time as its competitors have been grounded.

Airline Background
Ethiopian Airlines is Ethiopia’s flag carrier and the country’s biggest airline. It is considered one of the few profitable African airlines. Based in Adis Abbaba, the carrier operates a fleet of almost 130 aircraft. Ethiopian Airlines is a StarAlliance member. With some 14,000 employees, the airline flies to almost 200 destinations (passenger and cargo).

Ethiopian Airlines — By Konstantin von Wedelstaedt

Bamboo Airways

Vietnam’s regional carrier, Bamboo Airways, is another Asian carrier among airlines that made a profit in 2020. Moreover, the airline improved the results and reported aggregate earnings before taxes in 2020 at more than $17.4 billion — up nearly 34 percent compared to 2019. This is because bamboo Airways perfectly restructured its flight network concentrating on the domestic market, new routes to potential destinations, especially niches and leisure routes. As a result, the airline increased its financial result and the number of passengers carried by 40%.

Airline Background
Bamboo Airways is a relatively new Vietnamese leisure carrier. The airline commenced operations in 2019. Bamboo Airways operates to 29 mostly regional destinations but plans to expand its operations to the United States in the course of 2021. The airline operates a diversified fleet of 28 aircraft with additional 13 aircraft on order.

Airlines that made profit in 2020 — Bamboo Airways
Bamboo Airways

Any Other Airlines That Made Profit in 2020?

We are always happy to receive your feedback — especially in case you know about another airline that could make a profit in 2020. So leave us a comment or get in touch with the author on social media.

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Benjamin Walther

CEO, Frankfurt

Benjamin is Information Design's CEO and a proven content-maniac. Besides running a successful business and developing pioneering ideas, he's dedicated to writing blog posts and creating content.

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