MIAMI – How bad has the COVID-19 pandemic affected global air traffic in general and commercial long-haul routes in particular? Eurocontrol, the Agency that manages European airspace, with its Seventh Snapshot published on March 16, gives some answers.

To have an in-depth vision of the traffic variations that appeared and grew critical month after month, Eurocontrol has taken year 2019 as a comparative basis.

Before and During the Pandemic

Before the pandemic hard hit to air traffic as a whole, the short and medium-haul, an approximate total of 160, had an average of flights in excess of 12 per day.

Nowadays only a few routes were spared and continue to show the same rate of daily flights. Long-haul routes started to feel the effects of the COVID-19-induced crisis in February 2020 and China runs in a particular way since the pandemic originated in this country.

To have a clear picture of how the situation affected the networks, Eurocontrol refers to 2019 and takes into consideration 61 “high-frequency” long-haul connections in Europe. Eurocontrol terms “high-frequency” those flights operating three return services per day, 6+ flights in total.

The Long-haul Network

The Eurocontrol map shows the long-haul networks originating in Europe with London (LHR), Frankfurt (FRA), Paris (CDG), and Amsterdam (AMS) being the major ones with high-frequency connections both towards the western and eastern hemispheres.

These are followed by airports in the Hiberic peninsula with Madrid (MAD), and Lisbon (LIS), both focused on South American routes, and other European airports such as Dublin (DUB), Zurich (ZRH), Milan (MXP/LIN), and Rome (FCO/CIA). France and the United Kingdom are also present from less important airports.

Spectacular Fall in Air Traffic

The fall in air traffic is spectacular: LHR goes down to seven long-haul frequencies from the previous 25, ZRH, FCO, DUB, MAD, and LIS have no long-haul at all while the pandemic has helps Luxembourg (LUX) to enter the category thanks to cargo flights.

France and UK’s secondary airports have altogether disappeared from the charts. As matter of fact, connections are now limited to five destinations i.e. US, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Qatar, China, and South Korea, but at a very low frequency, while two continents simply no longer have any flight coverage.

In numbers, the fall in short-haul frequency stands at minus 21% – February 2019 to the same month in 2021 – while the high-frequency long-haul fell by more than two-thirds at minus 69%.

The only hope of a steady and rapid recovery stands on two legs: one is the success of mass vaccination and proof of it, like the IATA Travel Pass, recently tested, and the second is coordination and streamlining of procedures between countries so to convince traveler that air travel is safe again.

If these conditions are met, then the desire to travel, highly perceived all over the world, would do the rest. Let’s hope.

Featured and all images: Eurocontrol