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The most talked-about aviation moments in 2018

Posted: 6:50 AM, Dec 28, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-28 12:51:32Z

Bigger, busier, longer, safer -- but not faster.

This was another record-breaking year for aviation. In 2018, we flew more, but safety records were higher than ever.

The world's longest flight relaunched, between Singapore and New York, and the first ever direct flight took place between Australia and the UK.

We got excited about the Boeing 777X, with its game-changing folding winglets, and the Beluga XL, with its humpbacked shape and smiling whale livery.

We were wowed by the upcoming Jewel addition to Changi's Singapore Airport, and can't wait to book our rooms in the retro-themed TWA Hotel at JFK.

Here are CNN Travel 's highlights from the aviation year.

January

Nearly four billion people flew in 2017, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, making it the busiest year ever for commercial flights. However, it was also the safest year in aviation history .

Increased traffic doesn't have to mean a drop in service, either. Latvian flag carrier airBaltic was named the world's most punctual airline by air travel intelligence company OAG, followed by Hong Kong Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines.

Tenerife North, in Spain's Canary Islands, was revealed to be the world's most punctual airport, with nine out of ten flights arriving or departing on schedule.

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And speaking of departures, January 3 saw the final flight of Delta's last Boeing 747 , which flew from Atlanta to an airplane boneyard in Marana, Arizona. With United Airlines also retiring its 747s, it marked the end of an era for US air travel.

February

Dutch pilot Christiaan van Heijst talked to CNN Travel about his incredible collection of photos taken from inside the cockpit, capturing phenomena such as the Northern Lights and St Elmo's Fire.

Jabbrrbox work booths were installed at New York's LaGuardia Central Terminal B, offering an alternative to the traditional airport lounge. These private windowed booths can be rented to gain access to WiFi, USB charging, flight trackers, audio speakers and mood lighting.

March

Skytrax revealed its annual ranking of the world's best airports -- with Singapore's Changi Airport claiming the number one spot for the sixth year in a row.

What makes Changi so special? Well, there's a rooftop swimming pool and two 24-hour movie theaters screening the latest blockbusters for free. It's set to get even more fabulous in 2019, with the opening of its Jewel Changi addition, complete with five-story terraced garden and indoor waterfall.

On the first of two epic airborne adventures he undertook in 2018, CNN's Richard Quest boarded the Qantas jet making the first direct flight from Australia to the UK .

A 17-hour trip from Perth to London might sound long, until you consider that the original London to Australia flight -- known as the Kangaroo service -- involved seven stopovers over a period of four days.

April

Donegal Airport, on Ireland's northwest coast, was named the world's most scenic airport approach by PrivateFly, a booking platform for private jet charters.

The Aircraft Interiors Expo 2018 took place in Hamburg at the start of the month. One of the biggest headline-grabbers was Airbus debuting new beds that will let passengers sleep in the cargo hold . The sleeper berths are designed for Airbus A330 jets and will be available to airlines by 2020.

Another eyebrow-raiser was Italian seat manufacturer Aviointeriors' SkyRider 2.0, a "standing-up" airline seat designed to reduce space between rows. Aviointeriors promised that the seats maintain "an adequate comfort" but commentators weren't convinced -- so far the innovative seat has yet to be taken up by an airline.

Meanwhile, at the Arabian Travel Market 2018, Emirates revealed plans to dispense with airplane windows . Its Boeing 777-300ER First Class Private Suite features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, soft leather seating, mood lighting, and "virtual windows" enabled by fibre-optic camera technology. That's right: Fake views.

May

Aviation fans and architecture buffs alike have been very excited about the transformation of JFK Airport's TWA Flight Center into a retro-fabulous hotel.

The 1960s-inspired hotel won't open until 2019, but mid-year we got a preview of a model room .

Then in October, a 60-year-old TWA-branded Lockheed Constellation L-1649A was trucked 300 miles from Maine to New York to serve as a bar in the new hotel.

June

British lawmakers granted approval to controversial plans to build a third runway at Heathrow , which means the London airport could be transformed into the world's biggest.

Under the proposal, passenger capacity could jump to 100 million a year. In December, the airport revealed its plans for carbon neutral growth , focusing on cleaner aircraft technology, sustainable aviation fuels and improvements to airspace and ground operations.

And in New Mexico, a jet that won't be winning prizes for fuel efficiency came up for auction: Elvis' private jet , a customized 1962 Lockheed JetStar 1329 which had been quietly rusting on a runway for 36 years.

July

Airbus completed the first test flight of the Beluga XL , or "Flying Whale." The distinctly cetacean vibes given off by this cargo plane's humped shape and bottle nose are further enhanced by a quirky smiling-faced livery.

Airbus also wrapped up "route-proving flights" in the United States for its new wide-body airliner, the A330-900neo . It features new engines, a re-designed cabin and curved wingtips called sharklets that cut wind resistance and save fuel.

Another plane with a sealife-themed livery, the Embraer "Shark" E190-E2 , kicked off a five-month tour with an appearance at Farnborough Airshow in the UK.

And completing the trio of aircraft with funny names, designs for the luxurious interior of the Airlander 10 "Flying Bum" were also unveiled at Farnborough.

The hybrid helium airship's 46-meter-long cabin will boast plush en suite bedrooms, an on-board bar and glass flooring providing horizon-to-horizon views.

Elsewhere, X-ray scanners were trialled at airports including London Heathrow, New York's JFK and Amsterdam Schiphol which could one day spell the end of having to remove items from hand luggage when passing through security.

The new scanners use 3D imagery, allowing security staff to see contents of bags from all angles.

August

CNN Travel was granted an exclusive tour of the world's biggest unfinished cargo jet , an Antonov An-225 which languishes in a hangar on the outskirts of Kiev.

A sister craft to the world-famous Mriya , construction of the second -- and last -- Antonov An-225 began in 1989, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, history intervened and it never took to the skies.

September

It's not just the 1,400 meter-altitude that might cause you to catch your breath at India's newly opened Pakyong Airport in the Himalayas; the engineering's pretty impressive too.

The $68.7 million airport opens up tourism to the scenic state of Sikkim, which borders Bhutan and Nepal and boasts 28 mountain peaks, 21 glaciers and more than 200 lakes.

Elsewhere, CNN Travel took a deeper look at Hong Kong International Airport's $18 billion expansion plans and Turkish Airlines revealed some very glamorous new cabin crew uniforms .

The world's first Boeing 777 retired to an aviation museum in Arizona and, on another Boeing 777, Cathay Pacific made a rather embarrassing spelling mistake on the livery.

October

In 2018 Singapore Airlines was named the world's best airline by both Skytrax and AirlineRatings.com , and it further cemented its reputation when it relaunched the world's longest flight: SQ22, a 17-and-a-half hour trip between Singapore and New York.

CNN's Richard Quest was on board the inaugural flight, delivering live updates throughout the journey.

Turkey's new $12 billion Istanbul Airport was inaugurated at the end of the month, but the hotly anticipated Norman Foster-designed airport for Mexico City was scrapped halfway through construction, following a public vote.

Indonesia's deadliest air crash in nearly 20 years took place on October 29 when Lion Air Flight 610 crashed shortly after taking off from Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

A preliminary report into the disaster revealed that the pilots repeatedly fought to override an automatic safety system installed on the brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, but many questions remain.

November

Excitement was building all year for the Boeing 777X , which will fly for the first time in 2019.

In November, it reached a production milestone when its major fuselage sections -- the airplane's nose, mid and aft sections -- were brought together.

The plane's standout feature is its innovative folding wingtips, which will allow this XL plane to fit through regular airport gates. The wings are also made of lightweight super-strong carbon fiber, making the plane more fuel-efficient.

Other planes creating buzz this month were the Airbus A220-100 , the first newly designed large single-aisle airliner in nearly three decades, and the MIT-engineered ion plane , which has no moving parts and doesn't need an engine to fly.

Munich Airport shared photos of its custom-made hangar doors , specially designed to accommodate the 73-meter-long Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger plane.

15 years after Concorde's last flight , supersonic travel was back on the agenda this year with projects such as Boom Technology and NASA's X-59 QueSST supersonic jet . The economic viability of these new innovations is still in question, so it could be a while before we're jetting from Shanghai to L.A. in five hours.

December

CNN Travel took a look at Beijing Daxing International Airport , the Chinese capital's new mega-hub that's due to open next September.

Designed by the late Zaha Hadid, it'll have four runways and a terminal the size of 97 soccer pitches.

Boeing unveiled the business jet version of the Boeing 777X, the BBJ 777X , with ultra long-range capabilities which the company says will allow elite travelers to fly nonstop between "any two cities on Earth."

Deliveries began for the Bombardier Global 7500 , the $70 million private jet that is set to challenge the Gulfstream G650's dominance of the luxury market.

And the United States' first fully biometric terminal opened at Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, which in September was once again named the world's busiest airport .

Facial recognition technology allows travelers to breeze through from curb to gate without using their passport and has a 98% success rate.

Outside the US, airports such as Singapore's Changi, Amsterdam's Schiphol and Aruba International Airport are reported to already offer biometric check-in and boarding capability at some gates and terminals.

And as December rolled to a close, 2018 had at least one last aviation headline up its sleeve when thousands of passengers were grounded in and out of London's Gatwick Airport following two incidents involving drones.

Here's to clearer skies and happier landings in 2019.