Coronavirus has set aviation back to 1999, leading data analysts say

Coronavirus has set aviation back to the year 1999, a leading data analysis firm has said.

In its end-of-year Airline Insights Review, Cirium calculates that the collapse in air travel precipitated by the pandemic has set back aviation by 21 years in terms of the number of flights.

Between January and the start of December 2020, 16.8 million passenger flights departed worldwide, compared with around 36 million in the same time frame in 2019 – a collapse of 54 per cent.

The number of passengers carried fell even more steeply, with two-thirds fewer than last year.

The worst day in the entire coronavirus crisis was 25 April, with only 13,600 departures worldwide – one-seventh of the 95,000 flights that operated on the busiest day, 3 January.

Of the flights that did go ahead, a large majority were domestic departures – reflecting the tangle of international restrictions that have suppressed travel options.

The top seven routes worldwide in 2020 were domestic flights in east Asia. Seoul to Jeju Island in South Korea had 72,000 departures – more than twice as many as the next in the list, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, with 31,000.

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Third and fourth places were routes from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Fukuoka and Sapporo respectively, followed by Shanghai to Shenzhen (adjacent to Hong Kong), Seoul to Busan and Guangzhou to Shanghai. Eighth place was the link between Saudi Arabia’s two biggest cities, Jeddah and the capital, Riyadh.

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In Europe, Heathrow lost its long-held crown as busiest airport to Amsterdam – with Paris CDG, Frankfurt and Istanbul almost neck-and-neck.

Ryanair was dominant in Europe in terms of flights operated. The Irish carrier dispatched 207,000 departures, an average of 620 per day. In 2019, it flew an average of 2,100 daily services.

The next most active European airlines in 2020 were Turkish Airlines (145,700), Aeroflot of Russia (135,900) and Lufthansa of Germany (124,300).

The slump in activity meant flights were far more punctual.

Cirium’s chief executive, Jeremy Bowen, said: “The airlines were largely on time in 2020. The factors that cause delays — congested airspace, taxiways or even a captain patiently waiting for connecting passengers — simply did not exist in 2020.

“A shame for the travelling public, airlines and aviation firms worldwide who didn’t benefit from it.”

The company’s fleets data shows the average size of aircraft has shrunk dramatically. Just 21 Airbus A380 “SuperJumbo” aircraft are in service worldwide, with 219 in storage.

While the Boeing 737 Max reentered service earlier this month after being grounded for 21 months, the plane that cost the lives of 346 people in two fatal accidents is facing a difficult future.

“During 2020 so far, Boeing has recorded 533 Max firm order cancelations,” says Cirium. “Some of these changes may affect already-built aircraft.”

Its rival, the Airbus A320, has almost twice as many future orders.

“Airbus cannot build enough aircraft on its own,” said Max Kingsley-Jones, senior consultant at Ascend by Cirium.

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