COVID-19 wipes out 35 percent of global airline capacity, with more to come

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March 23, 2020
capacity OAG
Photo: Frankfurt Airport

More than a third of the world’s airline capacity has been wiped out in the first 10 weeks of the coronavirus crisis, accounting for a staggering 37 million seats.

The 10th week of the pandemic saw single biggest ever capacity cut in one week as 21 million seats dropped out around the globe to cut capacity by 23 percent.

The sobering figures emerged from aviation data experts OAG Tuesday as airlines continued to scale back international flying and significantly reduce domestic operations.

Global airlines — including familiar brands such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qantas and United Airlines — are parking thousands of planes in response to the precipitous fall in demand and unheard of restrictions on international travel.

They are laying off staff and scrambling to find lines of credit to bolster liquidity even as they ask governments to help them survive.

READ: Singapore must ensure its airline soars after COVID-19

OAG’s John Grant described the situation as stark and predicted the 35 percent of capacity already wiped out was likely to get worse in the coming weeks as airlines continue to adjust their schedules.

And no region is unscathed.

Capacity in Western Europe fell 53 percent in seven days while in Latin America it was down by 42 percent.

Middle East capacity was down by a third even before the announcement by Emirates that it would suspend all operations.

And the cuts continued: South-East Asia was down 29.4 percent, the Southwest Pacific by 17.5 percent and North America by 9.1 percent.

“Those looking for the shoots of recovery will immediately focus on China where a further 217,000 domestic seats could be seen as positive against what is a dramatic situation,’’ Grant said in his weekly update.

“Capacity from the United States will continue to decline as the major carrier’s work through the precise detail of their already announced cutbacks.”

The top 10 countries to be ravaged by capacity reductions all saw seat numbers drop by more than 62 percent.

They include Peru, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Greece and Singapore.

Moving against the trend and adding capacity are Chinese carriers such as China Southern and China Eastern.

Ryanair produced the biggest capacity cuts to March 22, followed by SAS Scandinavian Airlines and Spain’s Iberia.

But a flurry of changes in the coming week is likely to see those rankings change.

“Perhaps the biggest concern is that the current “top four” airlines are still supplying OAG with their latest schedule changes and the record week-on-week capacity reductions we have seen exclude the majority of cuts those airlines have announced but are still working through,” Grant said.

“Put another way; next week could be as bad as this week, if not worse.”