About two weeks ago I tried to analyze how will airlines and flight prices change due to Coronavirus, but today let’s see the aviation’s fight for survival in this pandemic context.
For the millions of people wordwide working in aviation industry, March 2020 will mark the date when they lost their jobs, when their company started turning down. It will mark the begining of the end. There is perhaps no industry more severly impacted by COVID-19 than aviation.
Severe Drop in Flights
Did you know that, on a typical day, there are over 100,000 flights taking place across the world? But we are not living in normal times. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the world in a few short weeks; since the pandemic began, the number of flights has dropped by over 50% and continues to fall, while our skies get emptier. For example, LAX reported air traffic is down 85% from just one year ago at their airport.
The numbers have dropped further recently, as India and the United Arab Emirates grounded their flights and closed their countries. Thousands of people have shared photos on social media of grounded planes.
American Airlines’ vast lot of parked planes in Tulsa Oklahoma absolutely everywhere, including taxiways and even runway.
In Europe, Asia and the Middle East, or South America, the scenes are the same: a lot of airplanes on the ground. The sky is nearing empty.
The limited flights that are taking place have considerable social distancing precautions inside the airplane. Some countries, like New Zealand, are mandating this by law, and other airlines are allowing passengers to switch their seats to stay in line with the distancing guidelines.
No Passenger Traffic for Airports
In addition to the airlines, the airport terminals and their respective stores and restaurants are being hit hard as well. The food shops in the terminals are covered with plastic wrap to protect them from virus germs. The few people that are inside the airports and lounge areas are staying far away from each other, in line with worldwide social distancing guidelines.
With a large number of planes grounded, airlines losing revenue, and airport stores losing vital business they normally get daily. It is likely that these economic setbacks will have a large impact on them all, the full effect of which we will see in the coming weeks.
What does all of this mean for the future of aviation? Is the airline industry at risk? There has never been an event like this in the history of the modern world, let alone the history of the current airline industry.
Aviation Sectors that Beat Coronavirus
One interesting development has been Qatar Airways’ increase in business. In March, they reported adding thousands of available seats to their flights to the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia. These flights are serving as a lifeline to many people who would otherwise be stranded overseas. This development shows, among, other things, the difference in the way Qatar views the current world pandemic. While nearly every other airline in the world is reducing seats, they are increasing them and working on adding more.
On March 26, Qatar released their statements saying: “Figures for the last seven days show load factors of over 80% for flights to the UK, France, and Germany, with a fall to 36% for outbound services from those countries, illustrating the demand for homeward travel. Qatar Airways has flown more than 100,000 passengers home in the last seven days.”
High Demand in Cargo Aviation due to Coronavirus
Despite all the negative news media surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and its effects mentioned above, there is a lot of good news right now in the airline industry as well. We’re likely to see a resurgence in the air cargo industry due to the massive demand to carry medical equipment and supplies across the world.
American Airlines has been one of the leaders in this sector. They had not been doing cargo flights since 1984, but due to the heavy demand, they have commenced cargo flights once again, utilizing their large 777 planes. This is following airlines such as Korean Air, which are using A330-300 passenger aircraft for cargo transportation weekly, carrying supplies between Vietnam, South Korea, and China.
We’re seeing lots of airlines not only carrying cargo in “the belly space” of planes, but they are also packing up all the cargo supplies inside the passenger cabin.
Additionally, a 51-year-old DC-8 has been transporting equipment to Italy, where the coronavirus situation is grim. Samaritan’s Purse, a religious humanitarian organization, has spearheaded the project and is leading the charge in organizing these cargo flights to deliver the necessary equipment to Italy. International airlines are also helping out a lot in this time of crisis.
Many other airlines are running into difficult doing this, because strict border controls are making cargo deliveries problematic. One of the biggest obstacles to more medical cargo being delivered are these governmental rules, which need to be modified or removed in many instances to ensure that all necessary cargo can be delivered on time.
Private Jet Business Changed Overnight
Private aviation is currently booming, thanks to many medical flights, repatriate flights or private charters for people who want to stay as socially distant as possible from others. Because of the large number of grounded flights, it’s very likely that private aviation is going to be the only way for people to get anywhere.That’s if they can even afford to get a private flight.
They are also having a huge help in taking private cargo, supplies and returning people that are sick back home.
It is likely that private aviation will continue to boom after the pandemic is over, as more people will continue to use their services.
A Little Help from Oil Industry
A saving grace for airlines is the recent plummet in oil prices. The same barrel of jet fuel that would have cost airlines $60 in February, costs only $40 in March, 2020. That’s a significant discount on airlines’ biggest cost and, if we were not for the biggest drop in demand in the history of aviation, they would be celebrating a huge increase in profits. In the mids of the crisis, though, they are taking the small win of smaller losses.
In the end, this is a very little help for airlines fighting for survival.
It is important to keep all this information — both the good and the bad — in perspective. Though things look bad now, it will take a few more weeks before we know the peak of coronavirus’ impact. It’s important to keep apprised of the latest developments so we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, but we must also remember that there are positive developments right now and that this will pass eventually.
No matter what happens during the next few weeks, this too, will come to an end at some point. Eventually, the disease will peak, and people will be able to get back to their normal daily lives.
Secondly, it is guaranteed that the aviation industry will change due to this. It’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen in the aftermath of a situation never seen before. Some airlines will be massively set back, while others will benefit from the additional business. Certain airlines, such as Qatar Airways, which is finding a way to thrive during the pandemic, will likely continue to grow as well.
As to how the aviation industry will look once this is all over, we can only wait and see, while quarantining ourselves and our families in the meantime.