Coronavirus statistics snapshot – ‘yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery’, but the present delivers the gift of new recovery highs despite increasing COVID concerns

23 December, 2020

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God's gift, that's why we call it the present." This was a saying from American comedian, actress, writer, producer, and television host Joan Rivers, who was noted for her often controversial comedic persona. Even in the toughest of circumstances and the darkest subjects she had a talent to bring a smile to audiences.

Right now, as the COVID storm clouds again gather and highly transmissible mutated versions of the coronavirus spread, there is a need for some positivity, especially at this normally joyous time of the year where we will feel its effects more than ever. Missing friends and family will be hard, but a small price to pay to minimise the spread of a virus that has now infected approaching 80 million across the globe and killed over 1.7 million.

The final full week of 2020 provides the perfect gift and continues a seasonal rise in flight frequencies that sees a second successive increase. CTC - Corporate Travel Community analysis of OAG schedule data for the week commencing 21-Dec-2020 sees global flight frequencies rising +0.9% with the addition of over 3,800 departures when compared to last week.

Total global weekly departures in the analysis week exceed 421,000 to hit a new weekly high since levels fell back in Mar-2020. The levels may be down significantly on where they would normally be at this time of the year, but represent a +84.3% rise from the lows of May-2020.

There are again rises in almost all regions of the world, but the regions were the latest virus mutations have been centred - Southern Africa (-11.1%) and Western Europe (-3.0%) - head the markets where flight levels are down on last week, however in Western Europe's case that is a following a week where flight flights rose by a third (+33.5%).

South America is the only other areas to see a week-on-week fall in flights, down -3.0% in its lower region and -0.1% in its upper region. North America again sees the largest rise in flight volumes, up 2,250, a +2.0% rise, while Central and Eastern Europe (+7.4%) and North Africa (+7.1%) see the largest percentage rises versus last week's levels.

The reduction in the number of weekly flight departures from each of the 30 largest aviation markets is lower than the levels seen as the pandemic had its strongest impact, but the recovery in flight levels stalled over recent months and still remains a long way down on levels seen last year, while new lockdowns to inhibit second and even third waves impact performance across many major markets (Source: CTC - Corporate Travel Community and OAG - data: 21-Dec-2020)

At a country level there is very little movement among the world's top 20 largest markets by departures. In fact, Thailand and France trading placed between #12 and #13 and Germany and Italy between #18 and #19 are the only changes this week. The Russian Federation sees weekly departures rise back above 10,000 delivering the largest growth (+10.9%) among the top 10 markets, a percentage figure only beaten by France (+14.9%) and Ethiopia (+30.3%) across the top 50 markets.

The Russian Federation is joined in growth among the top ten by Indonesia (+3.9%), India (+3.6%), Japan (+3.0%), USA (+2.8%), Mexico (+2.0%) and Australia (+1.9%). Brazil (-3.6%), China (-0.5%) and Canada (-6.9%) all see week-on-week declines.

Egypt (+10.5%), Tunisia (+25.6%), Lithuania (+13.3%) and Macau (+17.7%) are among the many markets with double-digit week-on-week growth. Norway (-24.6%), Sweden (-18.1%), Denmark (-21.4%), Austria (-17.1%), Finland (-13.8%), Zambia (-25.7%), Croatia (-18.1%), Iceland (-21.5%), Greenland (-58.9%), Hungary (-15.5%) are among the largest markets to see double-digit week-on-week declines.

Myanmar continues a topsy-turvy trend: after departures doubled (+101.7%), then reduced by half (-53.8%), then rose more than three quarters (88.8%), have now fallen again by more than a quarter (-28.7%).

Global air capacity collapsed as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. After an initial stabilisation stage, we had until Aug-2020 seen continued steps of recovery, followed by a plateauing and a slow downhill slide in capacity levels. Since then there has been a mixed performance, albeit levels have been mainly flat as we reach the conclusion of the calendar year, before rising these past two weeks (Source: CTC - Corporate Travel Community and OAG - data: 21-Dec-2020)

This week's +0.9% increase in flights and +1.8% rise in capacity means that the year-on-year performance takes another big improvement step. This week, flight frequencies are down 'just' -40.5%, a +3.0 percentage point improvement on last week, better than last week's +2.6 percentage points gain. Capacity levels are down -42.9%, a +2.7% percentage point rise.

The numbers this week are certainly a positive present for the industry. Next week's data takes us into 2021 where year-on-year metrics should be showing positives, even if levels will still be down on the baseline performance of 2019.