Coronavirus statistics snapshot – Global air travel frequencies see a sizeable rise as air transport takes a clear recovery step as we move into Jul-2020 but are the planned schedules a leap of faith from airlines?

It has been coming – those small incremental rises in global air frequencies that were evident from May and through June have taken a huge growth step as we enter July as some airlines begin the next stage of their recovery while others return to the air. What is certain is we can now confidently use the recovery term, albeit we may see further stabilisation over the next week as the return of flights takes a stepped approach.

As lockdowns transform into travel bubbles and quarantine free air corridors it opens the door for airlines to start boosting their schedules. However, caution most remain. The recent experiences in China with the return of city-wide lockdowns and similar such examples in both Germany and the United Kingdom – the latter arriving quickly after the easing of lockdown restrictions – shows how quickly conditions can change.

The Blue Swan Daily analysis of OAG schedule data for the week commencing 29-Jun-2020 shows that global flight frequencies have grown from just under 288,000 for the previous two weeks to just over 337,000. This is a +17.2% rise in flights and sees six of the world’s aviation markets recording more than 10,000 weekly departures.

Notably, by frequency, United States of America (USA) has returned to the top of rankings ahead of China, but the latter remains number one by capacity. USA flights are up +11.6% week-on-week, but how many of the 77,500+ flights that are scheduled this week that will be operated is not known with the trend being for many late notice cancellations.

India sees the largest growth this week with just under 9,000 additional frequencies, just ahead of USA with around 8,100. China sees approximately 4,750 additional frequencies this week, while Russia, Indonesia, Spain, Turkey, Germany, Italy, France and Argentina all have between 1,000 and 2,000 extra flights scheduled this week.

At the bottom of the market many of the world’s leading aviation economies were seeing schedules around 10% of the levels seen last year. Now, only four of the top 25 markets see frequencies down more than -80%, comprising the United Kingdom (-85.7%), Brazil (-80.6%), Colombia (-97.6%) and Philippines (-84.4%). At the other end of the scale, Vietnam schedules this week are down just -12.3%, China down -20. 9% and India -30.3%.

CHART – The reduction in the number of weekly flight departures from each of the 25 largest aviation markets in the world is starting to show some significant improvements, but still remains a long way down on levels seen last yearSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG (data: 29-Jun-2020)

The rise in Indian flights, mainly driven by the expanded schedules of the country’s largest domestic operator, IndiGo, means South Asia leads the way with the largest week-on-week growth by region, up +82.5%. There is also strong growth this week in South America (+51.5%), North Africa (+45.6%), Western Europe (+43.4%), Central/Western Africa (+36.3%), the Middle East (+24.5%) and Central/Eastern Europe (+23.7%). In fact all but two regions sees week-on-week growth in flights: the exceptions being Central America (-2.2%) and Eastern Africa (-2.3%).

The biggest question mark this week is over how many of the additional almost 50,000 flights scheduled for this week will actual operate and whether airlines have made a huge leap of faith with their schedule plans. As OAG itself warns, “we may also be heading for a week with a very high rate of cancellations as airlines wait for demand to respond”.

Encouragingly, this week’s schedules show that regional markets now have capacity back to at least a quarter of the levels seen at the start of the year. The only exception being Lower South America where some countries continue to remain in lockdown and where Covid-19 is more rife. The arrival of the peak summer season in the northern hemisphere brings with it an optimism for leisure travel, but things are not quite so positive for business travel.

Comparing this week’s schedules with the comparable week last year (week commencing 01-Jul-2019), global flight frequencies are down -56.5%, a notable 6.7 percentage point improvement on last week. Global seat capacity also remains above a third of the levels seen at the same time last year, down -58.6%, a 7.2 percentage point decline on last week.

CHART – Global air capacity has collapsed as the Covid-19 pandemic has spread across the world and this week’s offering highlights that we have now passed the stabilisation stage and are taking the first steps in the recovery phaseSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG (data: 29-Jun-2020)

It appears that July could prove to be a key month in the recovery of air transport providing a platform for a stronger performance during the second half of the year. This is a key period for the airlines of the northern hemisphere, but respected industry intelligence specialist CAPA – Centre for Aviation warned this week that “making hay in the sunshine is challenging – and winter is coming”.

How the industry develops now will be more about government policy and the success or failure of travel bubbles. We all love bubbles, but we also know how quickly and easily they burst!

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