Impact of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic on aviation

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A nearly empty flight from Beijing to Los Angeles in March 2020

The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on aviation industry due to the resulting travel restrictions as well as slump in demand among travelers. Significant reductions in passenger numbers has resulted in planes flying empty between airports and the cancellation of flights.

Flight cancellations[edit]

Government regulations in Europe and the United States mandate airlines to refund fares when flights are cancelled, but in many cases airlines have instead offered vouchers or travel credits that must be used by the end of the year. (Some airlines have extended the voucher window to May 2022). Despite pleas from industry lobbyists to expand the regulations to allow travel credits, the US Department of Transportation has reiterated that airlines are obligated to provide refunds for cancelled flights. Travel vouchers are currently allowed when passengers cancel travel plans due to travel warnings, stay at home orders and other restrictions.[1]

Air cargo[edit]

As passenger flights were canceled, the cost of sending cargo by air changed rapidly. The cost of sending cargo across the Pacific Ocean tripled by late March.[2]

Adjusted cargo capacity fell by 4.4% in February while air cargo demand also fell by 9.1%, but the near-halt in passenger traffic cut capacity even deeper as half of global air cargo is carried in passenger jets' bellies. Air freight rates rose as a consequence, from $0.80 per kg for transatlantic cargoes to $2.50-4 per kg, enticing passenger airlines to operate cargo-only flights, while cargo airlines bring back into service fuel-guzzling stored aircraft, helped by falling oil prices.[3]

By sector[edit]

On 5 March 2020, the International Air Transport Association estimated that the airline industry could lose between US$63 to 113 billion of revenues due to the reduced number of passengers.[4][5] IATA had previously estimated revenue losses of around US$30 billion two weeks before their 5 March estimate.[6] By 17 March, IATA had stated that its 5 March estimate was "outdated", and that airlines would require $200 billion in bailouts to survive the crisis.[7] IATA further revised their revenue loss estimate in 24 March to be $252 billion globally, a 44 percent drop.[8]

Due to the sudden and large losses of revenue, airlines began to hold out against refunding cancelled flights and tickets to conserve cash, despite government regulations. In Europe, airlines had successfully negotiated to defer some $1.2 billion in air traffic control charges.[9]

Oliver Wyman reported that Asian airlines reduced their available seat miles by 23 percent in March 2020.[10] In Europe, the impact of the outbreak is expected to accelerate corporate consolidation in the airline industry.[11] According to consultancy CAPA Centre for Aviation, most airlines would be bankrupted by the end of May 2020.[12]

Air travel demand rose 2.4 percent year-on-year in January 2020, the lowest it has been since the April 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, though travel disruptions due to coronavirus only began in late January.[13] By March, the number of flights had plummeted, with about 280,000 flights reported between 24 and 30 March 2020 compared to around 780,000 in a similar period the previous year.[14] Despite a lack of passengers, regulations regarding flight slots initially compelled British airlines to fly empty planes to European airports in order to avoid losing their slots.[15] Fuel prices dropping (due to an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia) by around a quarter could not compensate for the fall in demand.[16] Google Trends indicate that airline customer service departments have received the largest rise in online searches between February and March 2020 than any other customer service department over that time period.[17]

Airlines[edit]

No passengers to be seen in an international departures area at Beijing Capital International Airport
  • Air Canada announced a temporary layoff of 5,100 employees, suspending most of its international flights.[8]
  • Air France–KLM chairman Benjamin Smith stated in a video recording to staff that the situation was "unprecedented". The Financial Times reported that the French government was exploring ways to provide the airline with cash.[18] Air France-KLM later announced it would reduce capacity by 70-90%. [19]
  • Air New Zealand cut its long-haul capacity by 85%, and suspended several long-haul routes. Domestic route capacity was reduced by 30%, and the company placed itself into a trading halt.[20]
  • The sale process of Italy's flag carrier Alitalia was accelerated, with the Italian government cutting the deadline for interested investors to submit offers from 31 May to 18 March.[21] Between the weeks of 2 and 9 March – when the Italian government announced a national lockdown – Alitalia's capacity in international flights fell by 22 percent.[22]
  • American Airlines is cutting its domestic flight schedule by 60%–70% in April 2020 and 80%–90% in May, with only a "handful" of international routes to stay in operation.[23] On 1 April, American announced that it would apply for US$12 billion in government aid.[24] On 6 April, American announced that almost all flights to the New York City area would be suspended, and no crew or staff would remain in the area overnight.[25]
  • British Airways CEO Álex Cruz informed staff that BA was facing a crisis worse than the aftermath of the SARS outbreak or the 9/11 attacks, and wrote that "jobs would be lost – perhaps for a short term, perhaps longer term."[26]
  • Cathay Pacific cancelled three-fourths of its flights in March 2020, compared to initial expectations of 40 percent.[27] The airline canceled 96% of passenger flights in April and May, but continued flying some passenger planes empty in order to transport cargo.[2]
  • Compass Airlines, a United States regional carrier that operated some flights for American Eagle and Delta Connection, permanently ceased operations.[28]
An employee disinfecting a Delta Boeing 757.
  • Delta Air Lines announced in March 2020 that it would reduce international flights by 20–25% and domestic flights by 10–15%. It also froze further hiring and suspended share buybacks.[13] The airline in March reported a 25 percent drop in bookings, and CEO Ed Bastian remarked that the hit to passenger demand was similar to the impact of the 9/11 attacks on air travel.[29] As of 31 March, Delta was suspending about 70% of its flights across its network.[30]
  • On 23 March, Emirates announced it will stop all passenger flights, starting 25 March 2020.
  • Ethiopian Airlines reported a 30% reduction in passenger traffic and a loss of $190 million in the months of February and March 2020.[31]On 29 March, the airlines suspended flights to more than 80 countries.[32][33]
  • In March 2020, Finnair announced starting negotiations about short-term layoffs for all of its employees.[34] By 10 March, 3,800 of its flights were cancelled in 2020 and Finnair announced it would decrease flights to European destinations by 20%.[35] By 16 March, Finnair followed with an announcement to reduce its flight capacity by 90% starting from 1 April.[36]
  • British airline Flybe, already struggling financially prior to the virus outbreak, entered administration on 5 March 2020 due to the effects of coronavirus.[6]
  • The International Airlines Group (including British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus) announced a 75 percent reduction in passenger capacity for two months in mid-March 2020. CEO Willie Walsh remarked that "there was no guarantee that many European airlines would survive".[37]
  • JetBlue is cutting its capacity by 5% and states the drop in demand is worse than after the 11 September attacks.[38]
  • Jet2.com announced it was cancelling all of its flights until at least 17 June 2020.[39] Although it continues to operate repatriation flights for British citizens currently overseas.[40]
  • Korean Air grounded four-fifths of its international capacity.[4]
  • Lufthansa grounded its Airbus A380 aircraft, and cut 90% of its long haul travel capacity. It also stated it would only operate 20% of its intra-Europe flights. [41] It later decommissioned its local discount flights arm Germanwings.[42]
  • Nepal Airlines the flag carrier of Nepal canceled all domestic and international flights by 20 March. The airline's international travel restriction was implemented prior to domestic restriction. The government indicated that the foreign airlines can conduct evacuation flights at any time despite air travel restrictions.
  • Norwegian Air cancelled 85% of its flights and temporarily laid off 90% of its employees.[43]
  • Philippine Airlines cancelled 69 weekly flights to China and 17 weekly flights to South Korea, while exploring new routes to Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia to replace lost revenues.[27]
  • Qantas reduced capacity on its international routes by around 25 percent and grounded eight of its ten Airbus A380 aircraft.[5]
  • Ryanair sent an internal memo informing staff that it may require them to take unpaid leave due to alterations in flight scheduling.[26]
  • Singapore Airlines had to cut 96% of its flights up to end-April and ground the majority of its air fleet on 23 March 2020. Its management also took a pay cut and staff up to certain management levels had to take unpaid leave.[44] Shares also dropped to its lowest since 1998 to the extent that they had to halt trading.[45] In response, the Singapore government injected up to S$19 billion for the flag carrier whereas its majority shareholder, Temasek Holdings, said it would underwrite the sale of shares and convertible bonds for up to S$15 billion.[46]
  • Southwest Airlines suspended about 40% of its flights and stored 50 Boeing 737-700 aircraft; CEO Gary C. Kelly stated that more aircraft may yet be grounded, but denied that the airline planned to furlough pilots or declare bankruptcy.[47] Southwest plans to reinstate some flights to international destinations and Hawaii in May 2020.[30] On 2 April, Kelly confirmed that Southwest would apply for federal stimulus grants.[48] On 7 April, Southwest announced that about 50% of its June flights will be canceled, and the airline will only operate from 7 a.m.–8 p.m.; however, the airline also plans to restore more international and Hawaiian routes in June.[49]
  • Spirit Airlines was to cut fares by up to 70% and reduce April 2020 capacity by around 5%.[50]
  • Turkish Airlines temporarily suspended all international flights starting from 28 March.[51]
  • United Airlines announced that it would reduce domestic flight capacity by 10% and international flight capacity by 20% in April 2020. It also secured US$2 billion in loans to secure its cash reserves.[13] United later stated on 15 March 2020 that it would cut 50% of its flying capacity for April and May 2020.[52]
  • WestJet reduced 6,900 out of its 14,000 employees (including early retirement, temporary and permanent layoffs, leaves, and resignations) and grounded at least 120 planes. All international flights were cancelled for a month.[8]

Aircraft manufacturers[edit]

  • Airbus reduced its wing production on factories in Broughton, Filton and Bremen, and reduced working hours in the sites. Its French and Spanish sites suspended production for several days before a partial resumption on 23 March.[53]
  • Boeing froze hiring and reportedly laid off employees due to a large number of cancellations, which outpaced new orders in February 2020.[54] On 11 March, it was revealed that Boeing was to exercise its whole US$13.8 billion loan facility (which it secured in February). Prior to the pandemic, Boeing's business had been impacted by groundings of its 737 MAX aircraft.[55]
By 7 April, Boeing had indefinitely suspended production at its factories in South Carolina and Puget Sound, Washington, completely halting the assembly of its commercial aircraft.[56]
  • Bombardier on 26 March 2020 announced a suspension of most Canadian production in Ontario (for 2 weeks) and Quebec (until 13 April), in addition to halting production in Northern Ireland. 12,400 Bombardier employees in Canada (70 percent of the workforce) were furloughed.[57]
  • Embraer reported deferment of orders of its commercial aircraft.[58] It also suspended its financial guidance for 2020.[59]

By country[edit]

  •  China: Roughly two-thirds of international flights to and from China were cancelled in February 2020. Flights between Japan and China saw a 60 percent reduction in traffic, while the US and China saw a reduction of 86 percent.[60] Two-thirds of domestic flights within China were similarly cancelled, numbering around 10,000 flights daily, while the ticket prices for remaining flights dropped – South China Morning Post reported that a seat for a three-hour flight between Shanghai and Chongqing costed as little as 29 Yuan (US$4.1). Passenger traffic between 25 January and 14 February dropped by 75 percent compared to the same period in 2019.[61] Since 23 March 2020, all international passenger flights bound for Beijing are diverted to twelve designated first points of entry, under the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC)'s guideline.[62] Since 29 March, all international flights to and from China are reduced, with flight limit.[63]
  •  Italy: Due to the outbreak and the ensuing national lockdown, thousands of flights to and from Italy were cancelled.[64]
  •    Nepal: From March 2020 in order to prevent the importation and spread of coronavirus infection, all aircraft including domestic and international were banned arriving in Nepal.
  •  Turkmenistan: From March 2020 in order to prevent the importation and spread of coronavirus infection, all aircraft arriving in Turkmenistan from abroad are redirected to the Turkmenabat International Airport.[65] Passengers arriving from outside of Turkmenistan are carried screened for signs of active infection, in particular, body temperature is measured. Visitors who are flagged during screening are transported to an allocated hospital. The airport medical center is equipped with personal protective equipment. After passing a medical examination, the plane, together with passengers on board, leaves for Ashgabat. Departures from Turkmenistan are carried out from Ashgabat International Airport. Persons authorized solely for diplomatic, official, humanitarian purposes are allowed to enter the territory of Turkmenistan.[66]
  •  United States: Multiple airlines waived fees for flight booking changes and cancellations during the coronavirus outbreak following a request from Sen. Richard Blumenthal.[67] Between 20 January and 7 March 2020, stock prices in US airlines decreased by 30 percent.[68] Flight fares for domestic flights also dropped.[69]
On 25 March, the United States Senate passed a bill that would allocate $58 billion in loans and guarantees to aviation-related companies, including $25 billion for passenger carriers and $4 billion for cargo carriers, plus $17 billion for companies "critical to maintaining national security", such as Boeing. The airlines accepting the package would be barred from increasing executive pay, issuing dividends, or buying back shares during the aid period.[70]
  •  Hong Kong: Arrivals in February 2020 fell by more than 96 percent compared to February 2019.[71]
  •  Philippines: The National Economic and Development Authority projects a loss of at least 1.2 million tourist arrivals assuming that the pandemic persists by June 2020.[72]
  •  Thailand: Arrivals in February 2020 fell by 44.3 percent.[73]
  •  Sri Lanka: Arrivals in February 2020 fell by 17.7 percent.[74]
  •  Japan: Arrivals in February 2020 fell by 58.3 percent.[75]
  •  India: Indian airlines are estimated to report a loss of 600 million USD (not including state-owned Air India) for the January-March quarter. The government of India is planning a rescue package for the aviation industry for as much as 120 billion INR (1.6 billion USD).[76]

Hazard controls[edit]

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if a person becomes sick on an airplane, proper hazard controls to protect workers and other passengers include separating the sick person from others by a distance of 6 feet, designating one crew member to serve the sick person, and offering a face mask to the sick person or asking the sick person to cover their mouth and nose with tissues when coughing or sneezing. Cabin crew should wear disposable medical gloves when tending to a sick traveler or touching body fluids or potentially contaminated surfaces, and possibly additional personal protective equipment if the sick traveler has fever, persistent cough, or difficulty breathing. Gloves and other disposable items should be disposed of in a biohazard bag, and contaminated surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected afterwards.[77]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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