Revealed: Twenty-one years of passenger growth wiped out by Covid travel restrictions in 2020, with American Southwest Airlines operating the most flights
- At the height of the disruption in April, scheduled flights fell by 86%.
- Domestic trips fell by 40% to 13 million this year, after 21.5 million flights in 2019
- Atlanta was the busiest airport in the world, with over 250,800 flights arriving
A report by a global aviation data company highlighted the “shocking” impact of global travel restrictions on Covid-19 on aviation.
Cirium’s report shows that the pandemic and its aftermath wiped out global aviation growth by 21 years in just a few months, bringing passenger numbers this year down to 1999 levels. Passenger traffic fell by 67 percent in 2020.
At the height of the disruption in April, scheduled flights fell significantly worldwide on April 25 to just 13,600, compared to the busiest day in 2020 on January 3, when Cirium tracked over 95,000 scheduled flights. This means an extraordinary reduction in flights of 86 percent.
A report from global aviation data company Cirium highlighted the “shocking” impact of global travel restrictions on Covid-19 on aviation
From January to December, the airlines operated 49 percent fewer flights in 2020 than in 2019 – from 33.2 million flights to just 16.8 million (by December 20).
Domestic travel fell 40 percent this year, from 21.5 million flights in 2019 to 13 million, while international flights recorded an even steeper decline with just 3.8 million international flights, 68 percent less than the 11.7 million Flights in the previous year.
In total, 77 percent of the scheduled flights flown this year were domestic and 23 percent were abroad.
Cirium data analysis found that Southwest Airlines operates the most flights worldwide (and in North America) with a total of 869,800 flights. China Southern Airlines (500,700 flights) led the way in Asia Pacific, Ryanair in Europe (207,000 flights), Azul in Latin America (138,500 flights) and Qatar Airways (84,100 flights) in the Middle East and Africa.
On the ground, Atlanta was the world’s busiest airport with over 250,800 flights arriving in 2020, while the world’s busiest air route in both directions was in South Korea between Seoul and Jeju Island with 71,900 flights operated.
Advance planning for airlines has been dramatically reduced from six to twelve months for flight planning to just six to eight weeks. This is forcing airlines to be more nimble and adapt faster to the rapidly changing rules and travel restrictions around the world, Cirium said.
FLEETS IN WAREHOUSE (BUT NOT THE A320)
Since the airlines were forced to drastically reduce the number of aircraft still in service, those that are still flying work significantly fewer hours.
For example, narrowbody planes were only six to seven hours a day in the third quarter of 2020 compared to nine to ten hours a day in the same period last year.
While up to 30 percent of the global passenger fleet is still in storage, a recovery is emerging. Only 10 percent of the Airbus A320neo short-haul aircraft are currently in stock, showing that narrowbody aircraft are leading the resurgence – domestic and short-haul travel are returning first.
Cirium data analysis found that Southwest Airlines operates the most flights worldwide (and in North America) with a total of 869,800 flights
The most widely used type of aircraft in the world was the Airbus A320 with Cirium, which made 6.07 million flights in 2020.
Jeremy Bowen, CEO of Cirium, said: ‘While this time last year we celebrated the on-time performance of global airlines, this year is dramatically different. Most global airlines were largely on time in 2020. It’s just a shame the traveling audience, airlines and air carriers worldwide have not benefited from it.
“The factors that normally lead to delays, such as congested airspace, taxiways and delayed connecting passengers, simply did not exist in 2020.”
The Cirium Airline Insights Review 2020 replaces the annual On-Time Performance Review from Cirium, which has been determining the world’s best performing airlines and airports for on-time flight operations for more than a decade.
SEVEN AVIATION TRENDS IDENTIFIED BY CIRIUM
In the Asia-Pacific region in particular, where more domestic competitors are merging or being acquired, there will be greater airline consolidation.
2. New generation aircraft
New generation aircraft such as the A320neo and the return of the 737 Max ensure lower operating costs.
3. Decommissioning and reconfiguration of aircraft
Excess aircraft such as the Boeing 747 will be retired and other newer aircraft types are expected to support increasing demand in denser leisure markets. Other aircraft are also being reconfigured for pure freight transport.
4. Forecast demand in a new way
In the fourth quarter, Cirium saw flight bookings drop 78 percent from the same period last year – this will of course change the way the industry forecasts demand. Cirium sees online search and sentiment [opinion mining] become the main indicators for calculating demand.
5. Airline operational flexibility
With the increasing volatility of flight planning, airlines have to introduce more dynamic planning, as the booking window has dropped from six to twelve months to just six to eight weeks.
6. Automated travel experience
The implementation of AI technology is accelerating to automate the travel experience and real-time proactive information is becoming more critical.
7. Increase in aircraft leasing
Aircraft leasing will cross the 50 percent mark and become the primary method of financing aircraft.