NEW DELHI: Coronavirus has pushed back global air traffic by over two decades to the last millennium. Global passenger traffic was down by about 67% in pandemic 2020 compared to 2019 and was reduced to 1999 levels, according to leading aviation analytics company Cirium.
“… the pandemic and its consequences wiped out 21 years of global passenger traffic growth in a matter of months, reducing traffic this year to levels last seen in 1999…. 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% reduction in flights. From January to December airlines operated 49% fewer flights in 2020 compared to 2019 – down from 3.3 crore flights to just 1.6 crore (to December 20),” Cirium said in a statement.
While domestic travel globally was down 40% this year, from 2.1 crore flights in 2019, international flights suffered an even more precipitous drop of 68% below the 1.1 crore flights tracked the year before.
Cirium CEO Jeremy Bowen said, “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.”
Majority of the scheduled passenger flights flown globally in 2020 were domestic at 1.3 crore flights (77%) and only 38 lakh flights (23%) were internationally, due to closed borders, it said.
According to Cirium data analysis, Southwest Airlines operated the most flights globally and in North America, with 8.5 lakh flights in total. China Southern Airlines (4.8 lakh flights) topped the tables in the Asia-Pacific; Ryanair in Europe (2.05 lakh flights); Azul in Latin America (1.3 lakh flights) and Qatar Airways (82,400 flights) in the Middle East and Africa. Atlanta was the world’s busiest airport, handling over 245,000 arriving flights during 2020.
“Forward planning for airlines has dramatically contracted from six- to 12-months for flight scheduling to just six- to eight-weeks – forcing carriers to be nimbler and adapt with greater speed to the rapidly changing rules and travel restrictions around the world,” Cirium statement said.
Airlines have parked a large number of their aircraft due to severe reduction n air travel and the ones still flying are doing so for much time than earlier.
“For example, narrowbody aircraft operated just six to seven hours a day in Q3 2020 compared to nine to 10 hours a day in the same period last year. While up to 30% of the global passenger fleet remains in storage there are signs of recovery on the horizon, with only 10% of short-haul Airbus A320neo aircraft currently in storage showing narrow body aircraft leading the recovery and domestic and short-haul travel returning first. With domestic and short-haul services ruling the day, the world’s most used aircraft type was the Airbus A320 with Cirium tracking (about) 55 lakh flights throughout 2020,” Cirium statement said.

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