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A Slow Recovery In Store For International Air Traffic

by Ajay Prakash

There is all-round optimism that finally, air traffic is picking up across the world. Let us dive deeper and understand the current scenario.

On an absolute scale, yes, the number of flights being put into operation by airlines has been growing steadily since May this year. Flightradar24 tracks flights in real-time and compiles flight statistics daily. The graph shows the number of commercial flights tracked per day starting Feb 1, 2020. We witnessed a low of 25,000 per day in April. Today the number of flights being tracked is close to 60,000 (62,562 as on July 27, 2020).

@ FlightRadar24 Data Statistics

How does this compare with the air traffic a year ago?

Further analysis of data from December to June indicates that the air traffic is 40% down in June this year when compared to 2019.

July data is yet to come in, but the expected growth rate would be less. Airlines added more flights to their schedules in the current month, with  European low-cost carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet starting operations again. Therefore we expect to see some marginal increase in commercial activity in the July statistics.

IATA gives a more pessimistic outlook for recovery based on several trends:

  • Slow virus containment in the US
  • Reduced corporate travel
  • Weak consumer confidence

IATA concludes that –

Based on these factors, IATA revised baseline forecast is for global enplanements to fall 55% in 2020 compared to 2019. Passenger numbers are expected to rise 62% in 2021 of the depressed 2020 base, but still will be down almost 30% compared to 2019. A full recovery to 2019 levels is not expected until 2023, one year later than previously forecast.

You can read more about the IATA outlook in Travel Radar’s article about Global Passenger Traffic Outlook.

International Travel Restriction Continue

The restrictions of international travel are so fluid that none wants to be caught by surprise and get stuck in a foreign land. The data compiled by IATA Travel Centre shows that there is hardly any country where travel restrictions have been completely lifted. International travel within Europe is now open, but the distances and travel restrictions are more akin to domestic travel.

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@ IATA Timatic (www.iatatravelcentre.com)

Domestic Traffic Growing Faster

Domestic or short-haul flight demands are picking up at a faster rate that International long-haul flights. This is because, in the current situation, passengers prefer short duration travel. Consumer confidence is depressed, and no one wants to spend too much time inside an aircraft, thereby increasing the risk of infection.

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@ IATA Economics analysis based on data provided under license by FlightRadar24

On the basis of flights tracked by FlightRadar24 in the month of July, domestic flights outnumber international flights by over five times. Russia, Japan and the US have are the key markets driving the recovery. China has been in a steady-state for past one month with regional travel lockdowns restricting a full recovery.  Australia and Brazil have a slow recovery curve. The graph showing Revenue Per Kilometer (RPK) for the month of June for the different regions is shown below.

Lastly, in both cases, the flight load factors remain below optimum levels. In the month of June this year, the domestic flight average load factor was around sixty-three per cent (63%) while for International flights it was thirty-nine per cent (39%).

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@ IATA Economics analysis based on data provided under license by FlightRadar24

International travel is a long way off from recovery. The wait, for the hibernating A380s to return back to their fleets, may just have got longer. IATA says it may take three years or more for a full recovery of air traffic to 2019 levels.

How long with International flights take to recover? Your views in the comments section will be appreciated!

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