Coronavirus statistics snapshot - the number of global air departures scheduled for this week is less than half the level planned at the start of the year

31 March, 2020

Last week, The Blue Swan Daily reported that number of one-way flights removed during the week commencing 23-Mar-2020 was over 217,000 departures, a -29.6% reduction compared with what was planned at the start of the year. This week that number has increased to over 347,000 departures, a -50.1% reduction on what was planned at the start of the year.

Based on this week’s schedule alone, Russia, Mexico and Australia, have all jumped into the world’s top ten country markets by flight departures, India and the United Kingdom have slipped down the ranking and Brazil, Germany and Spain have fallen out of the top ten; the two European markets have actually slipped right down to 25th and 26th, according to the latest data from schedules provider OAG.

CHART – The reduction in the number of weekly flight departures from each of the world’s 20 largest aviation markets is significantSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

The big news at the start of this week has been the announcement from easyJet that it is grounding its 330-strong Airbus fleet. easyJet, among the biggest operators across Europe, says that the decision is as a result of the “unprecedented travel restrictions imposed by governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the implementation of national lockdowns across many European countries.”

This is no real shock and will not have as big an impact on the weekly numbers as the airline had already scaled back operations over the past couple of weeks. Its temporary closure follows an agreement with unions on furlough arrangements for its cabin crew. The agreement, effective 01-Apr-2020, covers a period of two months and means that crew will be paid the majority of their average pay through a government job retention scheme.

easyJet says it continues to take every action to remove cost and non-critical expenditure from the business at every level in order to help mitigate the impact from the coronavirus. “The grounding of aircraft removes significant cost,” it explains. As for when they will return to the air, the two month agreement perhaps suggests a timescale of early Jun-2020. Formally, easyJet says at this stage there can be “no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights”.

CHART – Although easyJet’s schedules are pan-European, it had only been reducing its flights operations over the past couple of weeks as travel restrictions limited its activitiesSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG

The current uploaded flight schedules still include easyJet's planned operation for the week ahead, but now, like Ryanair before it, its short-term suspension of flights will mean another of the world's leading airlines has now been grounded by the current pandemic. A comparison with last year's schedules (week commencing 01-Apr-2019) highlights that nine of the world's top 20 airlines by capacity are no longer in this year's same list (week commencing 30-Mar-2020).

While the United States of America (USA) has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, the size of the domestic market means that the world's largest airlines - American Airlines, Southwest Airlines - and to a lesser extent Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, who have made more widespread network cuts, have strengthened their global market share.

CHART - More than one quarter of global flight departures this week will be flown by the three US majors and Southwest AirlinesSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG

Last week, The Blue Swan Daily had also highlighted how there had been movement at the top of the world’s busiest air routes ranking. This ranking has for a long time been dominated by the Seoul Gimpo – Jeju domestic link in South Korea. However, vast decreases in current capacity across multiple markets meant that last week the Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh topped the list – but only just! The difference was just 500 seats and we highlighted things could change quickly, well, this week the long-standing leader has returned to the top.

CHART – The world’s busiest air routes by weekly seat capacity for the week commencing 30-Mar-2020Source: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG

One bright spot is now appearing in China, where COVID-19 began its spread. Chinese authorities are now beginning to lift restrictions in Wuhan just over two months after its 11 million citizens were put into the lockdown during the infancy of the virus spread.

Chinese officials now believe the virus has mostly run its course domestically and as such more domestic capacity is being introduced through April. After a flat March, preliminary loaded schedules suggest domestic capacity will increase by a fifth (20.1%) next week in the week commencing 06-Apr-2020, with further growth of 14.9% and 4.4% the subsequent weeks.

This will represent an additional 3.6 million weekly seats on the levels planned recorded this week and almost three times the levels recorded at the bottom of this cycle back in the middle of February. That is positive progress.

CHART - China's domestic capacity is starting to rise again as officials now believe the virus has mostly run its course domesticallySource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG