Coronavirus statistics snapshot – is this as good as it gets? As we reach the end of August another small decline in global flights and capacity could mean we have peaked already

26 August, 2020

This is not how it was supposed to be. A booming air transport industry was supposed to be enjoying its busiest month ever this August, buoyed by busy holiday traffic as travellers took advantage of the increasing connectivity that was making the world a smaller place and seeing it much more affordable.

Instead we have a subdued industry around half the size than it was last year and one that has actually shrunk in size through the month. Is this as good as it gets for the recovery of the industry in 2020? Have we now discovered the short-term 'new normal'? Based on capacity figures for the current week the answer to both these questions could be… quite possibly so!

It is a little early to know if that is the case, but what we do know is that The Blue Swan Daily analysis of OAG schedule data for the week commencing 24-Aug-2020 shows that global flight frequencies have again reduced, slipping over 4,350 departures since last week from approaching 414,000 to less than 410,000. The decline may only be a small percentage, down -1.1% but it does continue the trend during a month when air travel is normally hitting its yearly high.

The start of the month had come with a positive momentum and on the back of 13 weeks of slow, but steady, growth. Global flights had passed the 400,000 threshold following a week-on-week +4.0% rise. Any optimism on the recovery has quickly drained over the subsequent three weeks as flights have slipped through the month, albeit remaining above levels seen in July but still with the loss of more than one million weekly seats.

CHART - The reduction in the number of weekly flight departures from each of the 25 largest aviation markets in the world is showing some significant improvements, but still remains a long way down on levels seen last yearSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG (data: 24-Aug-2020)

The week-on-week data shows a lot of red with four of the five largest aviation markets and seven of the ten largest seeing declines in flights. France is the standout performer among them with a +4.2% rise versus last week, United Kingdom continues to see growth, up +2.3% and China is the only other with a positive result, up just under +0.1%.

In the wider top 30 aviation markets where there is any growth its negligible, albeit the declines show a similar pattern and perhaps suggest more of a plateau than the start of a significant decline. It appears that with the traditional quieter months for schedules now upon us that the plateau is more likely to take a shallow downward gradient.

Looking further down the list it is not until #55 that we find the first double-digit growth where South Africa sees frequencies up a quarter (+25.6%). Algeria (+28.4%), Malta (+17.9%), Peru (+19.1%) are the only others in the top 100 aviation markets to record double-digit rises.

The reductions among the largest global markets are similarly nondescript, albeit Indonesia's -8.3% and Japan's -6.9% each translates into over 1,000 less flights. Vietnam, continues to see the loss of more flights, down a further quarter (-24.8%), while Bangladesh (-22.0%) and Singapore (-26.5%) are others to see frequencies down more than a fifth.

The latter, a major transit location for air travel and popular business travel destination is now only just in the top 100 aviation markets. In fact just 17 less frequencies this week would have seen it drop out of the world's top 100 aviation markets.

CHART - Global air capacity has collapsed as the Covid-19 pandemic has spread across the world and after an initial stabilisation stage we had until this month seen continued steps of recovery, now a plateauing is perhaps becoming more evidentSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG (data: 24-Aug-2020)

On a global level, the small changes this week in both flights and capacity means the comparison of this week's schedules with the comparable week last year (week commencing 19-Aug-2019), shows global flight frequencies and seat capacity still sit the right side of the half way mark.

Positively, the reduction in frequencies and capacity is on trend with last year and means a favourable situation when making year-on-year observations. Flight frequencies are down -47.4%, a 0.1 percentage point gain on last week, while capacity levels remain down -49.4%, matching last week's performance.

The removal of travel restrictions and the return of economic health are key factors in determining the rate of recovery of demand for air travel. But across the world the approach to travel restrictions is neither consistent nor enduring.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said last week that "the flying kangaroo's wings are clipped for now," but that "it's still got plenty of ambition". News from TUI Group in Europe that that holiday bookings for summer 2021 are +145% higher than last year's bookings for this summer. These positive messages show there could be some bright lights after what could be a long, dark winter.