Airlines face what authorities call “the deepest crisis in history”

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By Reade Levinson

LONDON (Reuters) – As the new coronavirus continues to spread, commercial flights have practically stopped. The situation is so serious that the head of the business group representing the world’s airlines has called the past “months the deepest crisis in its history.

A Reuters analysis of FlightAware data, which tracks air traffic in real time, reveals a series of sequential and precipitous declines in flights in four key regions as authorities seek to contain the epidemic.

From March 24 to March 30, FlightAware tracked approximately 280,000 flights, down almost 500,000 from the same week a year earlier.

In late March, the International Air Transport Association estimated that the loss of coronavirus revenue would exceed $ 250 billion in 2020 and urged governments to provide immediate financial support to the industry.

The transportation association said today’s crisis was much worse and more widespread than after September 11, 2001, when US airlines lost approximately $ 19.6 billion in revenue in 2001-02. After the terrorist attacks, the United States government provided airlines with $ 15 billion in compensation and loan guarantees.

“Airlines are desperately trying to survive in the most difficult times imaginable,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA chief. “We have the people and the experience to do this. But, to be perfectly frank, we have no money. “

Congress voted on March 27 to give the U.S. aviation industry $ 58 billion in a coronavirus rescue program, and Singapore Airlines aligned a $ 13 billion financing program led by state investor and majority stakeholder Temasek.

GRAPHIC: The results of the trips – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/FLIGHTS/qzjvqeqrvxm/index.html

AIRLINES LIMIT FLIGHTS

Due to travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world, the number of airlines immobilizing most or all of their fleets has increased rapidly in recent weeks.

To account for daily changes in the number of weekend flights compared to days of the week, Reuters measured the change in air travel based on the same day a year ago.

In the Middle East, major carriers, including Emirates, Flydubai and Saudia, the Saudi national airline, have suspended all passenger flights. El Al of Israel reduced its flight schedule and Turkish Airlines suspended all international flights on March 27.

In Asia, Singapore Airlines immobilized most of its fleet on March 23 after the city-state banned all short-term visitors, and Qantas suspended international flights until at least May after the Australian government prohibits the arrival of non-citizens and non-residents.

In Europe, passenger data from the region’s International Airports Council reveals an even deeper industry crisis than air traffic statistics suggest. As of March 22, the number of passengers entering and leaving European airports had decreased by 88%, or 5.2 million fewer passengers per day compared to the previous year.

In Italy, containment efforts to stem the spread of the virus triggered a rapid fall. There, the data shows a 98% drop in passenger travel, 440,000 fewer passengers per day compared to the same period last year.

Low-cost airlines Ryanair and easyJet immobilized most of their fleets in late March.

UK CLOSES WINDOW

The number of passengers arriving and departing from UK airports has also decreased, but at a slower rate than elsewhere in Europe. As of March 22, data indicates an 82% drop in passenger traffic compared to the same period last year.

One reason for the difference: the UK was originally exempt from the US travel ban on foreign nationals who recently traveled to China, Iran and a group of 14 European countries said Michael Stanton-Geddes, director of economics at ACI-Europe.

The exemption “temporarily protected much of the transatlantic traffic,” he said. “People who came from Europe to the United States had to go through London.”

In mid-March, some holidaymakers still left the United Kingdom for European destinations. On March 14, Jet2 reversed flights to Spain after the airline canceled all flights to the continent.

Air traffic in China is starting to resume after two months of severe travel restrictions. The country recorded half a million fewer flights in the same two-month period compared to the same period a year ago.

Turbulent weather

Falling flights to the United States following the Trump administration’s travel restrictions reflect declining air traffic around the world.

FlightAware data shows that only 866 international flights arrived or departed from the United States on March 30, down 83% from the same day a year ago. Flights involving private business and turboprop aircraft also fell 67% in the United States and 64% worldwide, the data said.

However, the number of domestic flights was less affected than international flights. Daily flights to the United States declined 51% on Monday from a year earlier, according to data from FlightAware.

But many of these flights have far fewer passengers. Planes are only 10-20% full, the Airlines for America industry lobby said in late March.

LOADING SUPPLIES PASSENGERS

So far, the number of cargo flights has not been affected by the travel restrictions.

FlightAware data shows that flights by cargo and parcel carriers such as Atlas, Polar, FedEx and UPS arriving and departing from the United States initially declined in the first week of February 2020. The decline, which was correlated with the lockdown of Hubei Province, “shows the importance of China to the world of international trade,” said industry analyst Andrew Charlton.

Shortly after, however, US cargo flights returned to previous levels, the data said.

Since transport aircraft transport approximately half of all air cargo transported worldwide, the grounding of these aircraft has increased demand for freighters. In response, some commercial airlines such as American, Delta and Virgin Atlantic use passenger aircraft only for the transportation of cargo.

(Report by Reade Levinson in London. Additional report by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago, Laurence Frost in Paris and Jamie Freed in Sydney. Edited by Blake Morrison and Janet Roberts.)

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