Wondering how COVID -19 affected the aviation industry?
The world has been bowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic that has been making headlines lately, and the global aviation and travel industry is no exception.
The virus caused significant disruptions in airline passenger traffic and its impact on air travel has been felt worldwide.
Domestic passenger volume dropped by 54.7 % in 202 0, and international passenger traffic was virtually none -existent during the second half of that year, greatly affecting airlines, ground service companies, and catering firms.
This fall in demand for air travel put more than 120 million jobs in jeopardy. The collapse in economic activity also affected freight traffic.
In August alone, freight air traffic was approximately 12% below year -ago levels. Airlines have since reported losses of between $ 324 billion and $ 520 billion over the past three years.
And although international passenger traffic has recovered modestly now, it is still well below pre- pandemic levels.
Because of the resulting disruptions, airlines have suspended flights in several countries, including Vietnam, China, Spain and Russia.
Airlines serving the European market suffered the greatest hit.
The top 10 carriers serving the continent lost nearly half their traffic during the first three months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. By September 2020, this figure had dropped by less than 10%.
While international passenger traffic remained weak since 2020 through the first half of 2020, airlines predicted a strong rebound in the second half of 2020, only for new waves to hit again, increasing unpredictability as to when all this would come to end.
It became clear that recovery from the pandemic would be faster for countries with strong domestic traffic than countries with a high proportion of international routes.
The latter group is likely to stay within their domestic flights and close international borders, allowing them to bounce back later than the former.
A recent analysis by Eurocontrol also revealed that many airlines temporarily parked aircraft in airports not normally used for commercial flights.
For example, Virgin Atlantic temporarily parked aircraft at airports that it only used for a season -only service.
This reveals that ground service and catering businesses were also affected by the global grounding of aircraft.
Despite all these, analysts predict that the overall passenger traffic volume in the second half of 2024 will recover to the levels seen in 2019.
This is consistent with the WATF 2020 -2040 scenario, which predicts the global airline industry will recover to 2019 levels by the end of 2024.
While the aviation industry is only a small percentage of GDP, air travel is a key enabler of many economic activities, and a full revival of the industry is the hope of every person.
Although the global travel market remains significantly below pre -COVID-19 levels, most major markets are gradually opening their border s to vaccinated travelers.
The gradual reopening of borders has sparked optimism for the travel industry.
Crisis deepens – Ukraine – Russia Conflict
As the focus on COVID faded, Airlines have been able to put their fleets back into service.
China has had to restore almost ninety percent of its aircraft, bringing the fleet back to pre-COVID levels.
However, these efforts are seemingly getting frustrated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and again, its Europe’s aviation that will suffer greatly.
The EU has implemented its own restrictions on Russian aircraft. The United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority has suspended Aeroflot’s foreign carrier permit, while the Netherlands’ KLM has been forced to turn back two planes en route to Russia.
Meanwhile, various suspensions have been issued due to the Ukraine-related events.
While Aeroflot is still flying to Europe, it is no longer operating there.
The US has also implemented export controls on certain parts from Russia, which may affect the aviation industry.
The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the US Department of Commerce announced new rules under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) on 24 February 2022.
These new regulations will make it harder for Russian manufacturers to access essential aircraft components hampering Russia’s ability to continue developing its aerospace industry and competing globally.
The European Union has also placed a ban on exports of aircraft and parts from Russia. Although the USA has not specifically imposed a ban on aircraft from Russia, the industry is so global that no aircraft will be spared.
For example, the Boeing 737 Max is equipped with Leap -1 B engines manufactured by CFM International (a joint venture between GE and Safran), while the MC -21 is powered by Pratt & Whitney PW 1400G engines. These engines are covered by the ban.
Russia airlines don’t own most of their planes; instead, they lease them from Western leasing companies. As a result, there is a high chance that Russian airlines could be forced to cut back on flights, and in the worst case, getting back to where it all started during COVID, being grounded! Sad!
Groundings, Bans and their effect on Aircraft Maintenance
As the planes kept grounded, pilots were obviously put to rest. The category of aviation workers that seemingly got no rest were the engineers, who ensured that these grounded planes were heavily maintained and fit for travel once the airspaces opened.
What could have changed prolly is the frequency of maintenance as these were not actively flying crafts then. Keeping these planes airworthy is an essential part of the aviation industry.
The work of maintenance workers ensures that tens of thousands of airplanes take off safely each day.
The absence of such maintenance could mean a variety of problems ranging from engine failures, fuel starvation, and induction icing.
Regular maintenance involves cleaning the aircraft’s interior components and applying chemicals to prevent corrosion.
This is especially important in humid climates near seawater, like those found along Florida’s Atlantic coast. Another part that needs regular attention is the fuel line.
Checking the fuel lines is a critical component, and a proper draining of the tank may be necessary to avoid fuel contamination.
Fuel contamination is often the result of old or damaged fuel tank caps. Rainwater can enter a fuel tank in large quantities.
It is important to always check if the gaskets on the fuel tank caps need replacement. Lubrication is equally important for various parts of an aircraft.
Pneumatic and hydraulic systems also require regular attention.
The issue of maintenance is actually more critical for older crafts and passengers should actually be way about the age of a particular craft.
While the age of an aircraft isn’t necessarily a safety issue all the time, older aircrafts are more prone to malfunction, such as a plumbing leak in the lavatory.
Likewise, a poorly maintained aircraft could cause a pilot to have an emergency landing, if its air conditioning is not working properly.
A well-maintained aircraft should meet all manufacturer specifications.
Aircrafts that are not well maintained equally certainly obviously end up having a shorter lifespan than those that are well maintained.
Some aircrafts may not be able to be repaired, and others may have accidents. That is why it is critical that these aircrafts have regular inspections, even when grounded, to catch problems before they cause a catastrophic event.
Keeping the aircraft in top condition is one of the primary responsibilities of an Airline.
If an aircraft is not properly maintained, the airline could face legal action, which is usually a civil case.
And, if the pilot / engineer were to be found responsible for, he’d equally be liable for any consequences resulting from their negligence.
While reporting its latest traffic volume figures today, Heathrow airport CEO, John Holland-Kaye, looked back on an “incredibly challenging” year for aviation. Holland-Kaye added: “The aviation industry is the cornerstone of the UK economy but is fighting for survival. We need a road map out of this lockdown, and a full waiver of business rates. This is an opportunity for the government to show leadership in creating a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing that will allow travel and trade to restart safely so that we can start to deliver the Prime Minister’s vision of a Global Britain.” As this infographic shows, the UK’s biggest commercial transport hub saw decreases in passenger traffic of over 80 percent in 2020 when compared to 2019.
This chart shows the YOY change in traffic volumes of Heathrow airport in 2020.
Imagining a world where planes were kept grounded for so too long.
Hundreds of thousands of airplanes fly around the world every day, so the question remains: What would happen to the aviation industry if all of them remained grounded?
The weirdest possible scenario could be airports getting reconstructed during this time! But that is the easy way to see things.
Or, imagine, in a world where the aerospace industry is a global enterprise, one giant like Boeing or Airbus chose to shut down even a single plane type (quite much the same as grounding)?
One thing the pandemic must have taught the aviation industry is how unwise grounding of planes was in the face of a pandemic.
Actually, airlines that continued to operate with an active fleet ended up having the advantage of being able to react quickly to changes in passenger demand and restrictions.
They actually gained a competitive edge during this time. And this was the perfect case for Qatar Airways with its wild global expansion during COVID, especially in Africa.
Their fleet procurement must have had the idea of a pandemic in mind.
The QA fleet comprises crafts of all sizes and types, and could this easily adapt to low passenger turnover by a simple change in choice of craft from a bigger craft to a smaller one.
Emirates, on the other hand, which largely procured large crafts, ended up being forced to fly the very same large crafts, often with barely 30% filled.
Not being able to keep up to this, they grounded most of their fleet!
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Keeping passenger planes grounded for long saw some airframes converted into freighters.
The sudden increase in freighter supply may mean however that many of these passenger aircrafts turned to freighters never fly again for passengers.
The grounding of planes would equally mean a significant loss of revenue from aviation insurance policies with losses going up as high as $ 10 billion.
This amount is a significant risk, but if the airline industry has massive cash reserves, it could survive. If it were to fail, some providers may be forced to dip into reserve funds.
And in the meantime, the entire aviation industry could suffer secondary effects. As insurers and reinsurers try to shore up their reserves, premiums may increase, contract clauses could be added or cancelled altogether.
The steep losses in revenue would mean that Government policies towards the aviation industry will be targeted for relief measures.
The efficiency of these measures would be debate for another day. For an industry that is already struggling under intense pressure to increase profits, a new suite of loan guarantees, wage subsidies, and equity injections, would arise and tilt the playing field against other firms and displaced workers.
Additionally, there would more likely be a lack of qualified staff, as many qualified workers would have been replaced with cheaper, part-time workers.
Many low-cost carriers are notorious for sacrificing employees. If that happens, the aviation industry would be hit with another crisis, where fliers would develop reservations against particular airlines.
It would also lead to a general safety crisis in the industry.
The chain of problems that arise when planes are grounded, or written off are many. It goes back to what I stated already that while the air transport industry makes just a small proportion of GDP for many countries, it is a key enabler of many other economic activities.
Therefore the industry itself should now focus on how to handle another disruption so we do not have these same things again.