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Report: 21 Years of Airline Passenger Traffic Growth Wiped Out in 2020

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and its consequences have wiped out 21 years of global passenger traffic growth in a matter of months, reducing traffic in 2020 to levels last seen in 1999, global aviation data firm Cirium said.

In its Airline Insights Review 2020, Cirium reveals the shocking impact on aviation of worldwide travel restrictions to curb Covid-19.

In comparison to 2019, passenger traffic is estimated to be down 67 percent in 2020.

At 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 percent reduction in flights.

From January to December airlines operated 49 percent fewer flights in 2020 compared to 2019 – down from 33.2 million flights to just 16.8 million (to December 20).

The majority of the scheduled passenger flights flown in 2020 were domestic—totaling 13 million (77 precent) with a mere 3.8 million (23 percent) flying internationally, due to closed borders and limited business travel.

“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,” said Cirium CEO Jeremy Bowen.

According to the report, most global airlines were largely on time in 2020.

“It’s just a shame that the traveling public, airlines and aviation firms worldwide didn’t benefit. The factors which usually cause delay, such as congested airspace, taxiways and late connecting passengers simply did not exist in 2020,” Bowen added.

Fleets in storage

As airlines have been forced to drastically reduce the number of aircraft still in service, those still flying are operating significantly fewer hours.

For example, narrow-body aircraft operated just six to seven hours a day in Q3 2020 compared to nine to 10 hours a day in the same period in 2019.

While up to 30 percent of the global passenger fleet remains in storage there are signs of recovery on the horizon, with only 10 percent of short-haul Airbus A320neo aircraft currently in storage, showing narrow-body aircraft leading the recovery and domestic and short-haul travel returning first.

Seven trends identified by Cirium

“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 China and Southeast Asia,” Jeremy Bowen underlined.

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, there was a 78 percent plunge in bookings compared to the same period in 2019. This will naturally change the way the industry forecasts demand: on-line search and sentiment will become 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 traveler experience and real-time proactive information will become more critical
  • Aircraft leasing will push past the 50 percent becoming the major manner in which aircraft are financed.
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