MIAMI – If you have recently followed the EUROCONTROL website, you might have come across one of its daily posts on the progress of European flights.

After August 2020, there has often been a negative trend with regards to passengers and flights that fly within EUROCONTROL airspace every day.

Unfortunately, I, like many other aviation enthusiasts or professionals in the aviation industry, hold our hearts tight when we see how every day, airlines reduce their flight schedules due to the low market demand as the epidemic crisis worsens in the various EU and non-EU countries.

Heathrow Airport Photo: Unknown

Regardless of the various appeals by the likes of IATA to reassure travelers on how safe the flights are and on the implementation of rapid tests at airports, travel restrictions continue to keep travelers grounded. The restrictions range from government-imposed quarantine periods for travelers coming from abroad to lockdowns and curfews.

In terms of airlines, the most emblematic cases come from the European low-cost carriers (LCC), which until 2019, guaranteed almost point-to-point connections every day of the year.

LCCs facilitated travel in continental Europe but drastically reduced their presence, canceling flights due to almost no load factor, and sometimes reaching more drastic decisions such as closing their bases and grounding planes, waiting for better times.

Heathrow, Terminal 5A, check-in hall, COVID-19 signage, 20th May 2020.

Only the Lonely

What I experienced and honestly made me speechless, happened during a simple search for a flight that would take me from the second main Spanish airport, Barcelona El-Prat (BCN) to Vilnius.

During a simple search, all the pre-COVID direct connections were canceled. in fact, the only direct scheduled flight, apart from a few direct flights during the Christmas period, reopened in March in conjunction with the start of the IATA SUMMER 2021.

It seems that now, the mantra for airlines is to reduce to the minimum and indispensable and survive to restart again in better times.

For a binge traveler, this new course for European aviation at a time of full expansion has and will cause many problems;
not only from the point of view of connections with other destinations and EU airports but also from the point of view of the expansion plans of the airlines themselves.

LCCs will have to reconcile supply and demand and be ready for when the latter starts to grow again.

Meos 787 Taking Off Malpensa MXP Intl Photo: Unknown

A Glance at the Graphs

The EUROCONTROL site allows you to analyze what is happening in the European skies in the deepest period of its history.

The first thing that might jump out at you is the big difference between 2019 and 2020, where the average difference in flights is 60% during the summer periods. In recent weeks, it is settling at minus 50%.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. The sad reality is that after the various cuts announced by airlines all around, the situation will tend to get worse.

In fact, if from the first combined EUROCONTROL forecasts it was thought that around December 2020 and January 2021 a difference from last year would be just 30%. Now, after the arrival of the second wave of COVID-19 to many countries, this value has been se to minus 60%.

PHoto: Luca Flores

ATC: another Plunge in Revenue

Many times we have heard about the reduction of airline revenues. However, we tend to put aside another important rib of the aviation world that concerns all those who are responsible for ensuring the order and flow of traffic in the European skies (ATFM Air Traffic Flow Management): ATC services.

Egyptian ATC Tower Controller at HECA Cairo Photo: Air Traffic Controllers – Egypt

These companies are both publicly and privately owned, basing their development plans and the implementation of cutting-edge technologies on revenue, which they obtain through the crossing of aircraft in their corresponding airspaces.

Reading the data, you will jump on your chair, close your eyes, take a deep breath and read it again.

The numbers show the sad reality this sector has ended up. The rank puts in first place France, with a loss estimated at -€626.6m (-US$737m).

Photo: Eurocontrol

Grounded vs Flying

Due to the low demands, many airlines decided to ground their aircraft across the globe, storing them or phasing them out entirely.

On October 16, 2020, there were 3,546 aircraft grounded and 4,622 flying in Europe alone, which in short means that half of the European airlines’ fleet is stored.

The airline with more aircraft stored right now is Lufthansa (LH) followed by Turkish Airlines (TK) and British Airways (BA). Translated into numbers, this means having almost 500 aircraft on the ground for these three carriers alone.

Boeing Airfield Stored 737 MAXs Photo: Boeing

From an Abandoned Airport to a Boneyard

In the meantime, during this crisis, new sources of business have emerged that have brought to the forefront of once-abandoned airports. Thanks to the enormous need for companies to find space to park their aircraft, these airfields have smelled a potential business that could allow them to return to being profitable investments.

Specifically speaking, airports have become “boneyards” where companies can find lower prices than those from big airports to store their aircraft.

The emblematic case is the Teruel Airport (TLV) located in Aragon, Spain. The airport was born as a cemetery for aircraft once decommissioned by airlines and now, thanks to COVID, has seen its business return to the center of development plans such as to triple the surface area of the airport itself.

Teruel Airport alone has 81 airplanes in storage, including some of Air France’s (FR) 380.

Storage at Teruel Airport Spain TLV Photo : Giacomo Robortaccio Instagram: flyer_robbi

Bottom Line

In conclusion, while writing this article, I felt many conflicting emotions while reading the various data, wondering if there would be a future for myself and those who are studying to get the flight licenses; those who have decided to make economic sacrifices to be able to take to the skies.

The bottom line is that we still don’t know what the near future will be for aviators-to be, but one thing is certain: hope must never be lost. There have been many crises in the past years that have led to a contraction in the aviation market. However, there came great periods of expansion afterward.

Leaving aside the current statistics that at best see a concrete recovery from next year with the advent of the various vaccines, the second important step will be to convince people to travel again.

Obviously, only time will tell, but as it is in our human nature to travel, this will only be a period of pause, where we can plan our future travels in a safer and more efficient way with the environment in mind.

In aviation, after aircraft incidents that happen from time to time, the industry does not succumb to resignation; it takes advantage of these moments and learns from them to increase its knowledge base. We are grounded, yes, but we can now have more time with our beloved ones, all the while not forgetting our passion for flying.

Featured image: Tocumen Intl Airport (Panama City) Hub of Copa Airlines. Photo: Giacomo Robortaccio Instagram: flyer_robbi