Intelligence Covid returns global air traffic to 1999 levels: Cirium By TTG Asia / Posted on 31 December, 2020 13:28 The fallout from the pandemic has wiped out 21 years of global airline passenger traffic growth in a matter of months, reducing traffic this year to levels last seen in 1999, according to a recent report by Cirium. In comparison to last year, passenger traffic is estimated to be down 67 per cent in 2020, due to global travel restrictions implemented to curb Covid-19, showed the aviation data firm’s Airline Insights Review 2020. Only 3.8 million flights were flown internationally in 2020, with 77 per cent of all flights being domestic: Cirium TravelAt the peak of the disruption in April, scheduled passenger flights dropped significantly to just 13,600 globally on April 25, compared to the year’s busiest day on January 3 when Cirium tracked over 95,000 scheduled passenger flights globally. This marks an extraordinary 86 per cent reduction in flights. From January to December, airlines operated 49 per cent fewer flights in 2020 compared to 2019 – down from 33.2 million flights to just 16.8 million (to December 20). Domestic travel was down 40 per cent this year, from 21.5 million flights in 2019, while international flights suffered an even more precipitous drop as they were 68 per cent below the 11.7 million flights tracked the year before. Jeremy Bowen, CEO of Cirium, said: “This severe setback shows the true extent of the challenge faced by the struggling aviation sector as it has sought to reset itself in the new post-Covid-19 era.” Global passenger traffic figures reveal a plunge of over two-thirds (67 per cent) versus the previous year, with Asia-Pacific continuing to handle over a third of world passenger traffic. The majority of the scheduled passenger flights flown this year have been domestic – totalling 13 million (77 per cent) with a mere 3.8 million (23 per cent) flying internationally, due to closed borders and limited business travel. Cirium data analysis recorded Southwest Airlines operating the most flights globally (and in North America), with 854,800 flights in total. Meanwhile, China Southern Airlines (487,700 flights) topped the tables in the Asia-Pacific, Ryanair in Europe (205,000 flights), Azul in Latin America (134,000 flights) and Qatar Airways (82,400 flights) in the Middle East and Africa. On the ground, Atlanta was the world’s busiest airport, handling over 245,000 arriving flights during 2020, while the world’s busiest air route in both directions was within South Korea, between Seoul and the island of Jeju with 70,700 flights operated. Forward planning for airlines has dramatically contracted from six- to 12-months for flight scheduling to just six- to eight-weeks – forcing carriers to be nimbler and adapt with greater speed to the rapidly changing rules and travel restrictions around the world. Airlines have been forced to drastically reduce the number of aircraft still in service, with those still flying operating significantly fewer hours. For example, narrowbody aircraft operated just six to seven hours a day in 3Q2020 compared to nine to 10 hours a day in the same period last year. While up to 30 per cent of the global passenger fleet remains in storage, there are signs of recovery on the horizon, with only 10 per cent of short-haul Airbus A320neo aircraft currently in storage, showing narrowbody aircraft leading the recovery and domestic and short-haul travel returning first. In fact, the world’s most used aircraft type was the Airbus A320, with Cirium tracking 5.49 million flights throughout 2020. Bowen said: “Airlines will have a way before returning to 2019 levels, particularly as international travel is significantly down and showing only slow signs of recovery, mainly (in) China and South-east Asia. “But Cirium is confident aviation will weather this difficult and terrible year and emerge in better shape – with younger, more fuel-efficient aircraft and right-sized fleets – to gradually navigate their way to recovery in the years ahead.” The seven key trends outlined by The Cirium Airline Insights Review 2020 for next year include: The consolidation of airlines, particularly in Asia-Pacific where more domestic competitors will merge or be acquired. New-generation aircraft like the A320neo and the return of the 737 Max will provide reduced operating costs. Surplus aircraft will be retired and the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380 are projected to support the rising demand in the denser leisure markets. In Q4, Cirium saw a 78 per cent plunge in bookings compared to the same period last year – this will naturally change the way the industry forecasts demand, with Cirium seeing online search and sentiment becoming the primary indicators to calculate demand. Airlines will need to deploy more dynamic scheduling with the increased volatility of flight scheduling, as the booking window has fallen from six- to 12-months to just six- to eight-weeks. The implementation of AI technology will accelerate to automate the traveller experience and real-time proactive information will become more critical. Aircraft leasing will push past 50 per cent, becoming the major manner in which aircraft are financed.