This summer of 2021, there has been a dramatic uptick in air travel and passenger demand in the aviation industry. Airports are much busier than they initially were at the beginning of the pandemic, and airlines are receiving increasingly more travelers. Parking lots at the airport are filling up with cars, and lines inside the airport are becoming congested again. The scene at the airport is starting to resemble pre-pandemic conditions, a stark contrast to the empty and desolate terminals in mid-2020. Masks-wearing mandates and safety measures are still being implemented however. Even with the pandemic still present throughout the world, air travel has unexpectedly returned to almost normal conditions. In this article, we will be explaining how and why travel demand has increased substantially this summer.
Earlier this year during Spring Break in March, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 1 million people entering an airport each day for 18 days in a row. These screenings marked the highest levels of passenger demand since March 15th of 2020, when the pandemic had just begun. The number of travelers recorded each day in this 18-day period was a significant improvement from the passenger demand recorded during the beginning of the pandemic, when there were less than or around 100,000 people being screened at airports each day. The Spring Break screenings were still however largely below the number of screenings on comparable days in 2019. During this period in March, American Airlines also reported that the amount of bookings for domestic flights were about 80-90% of what it had been in 2019 during the same period; American Airlines’ bookings increased 150-400% from earlier months in this time period. However in contrast to domestic flights, travel demand for international flights still remained at a relatively low rate due to travel restrictions and different pandemic severities across the globe. Since these statistics were recorded in Spring, travel demand is expected to recover even further this summer break with increasingly more passengers and activity at the airport. This can already be seen happening, as well over 1 million passengers have been screened through TSA each day already in May so far.
Why Travel is Proliferating?
There are several reasons why people have been returning to travel so rapidly recently. One of the most influential factors is the COVID-19 vaccine. With thousands of people getting the vaccine and becoming immune to the virus, many people are now not as afraid of the virus as they originally were. Another strong reason is how contracting COVID-19 on planes is highly unlikely, as reported by several news sources. These two reasons greatly assuage people’s fear of getting the virus and make them much more confident to fly. The majority of travelers are now significantly less afraid of catching the virus when flying, and as a result, travel demand is skyrocketing. Even if some people are still afraid of the virus, fatigue from being cooped up inside houses during quarantine for over a year has made people eager to travel again and get outside of their houses. The urge to go on a vacation and have a break from being trapped inside houses has made lots of people return to travelling. This reason along with the lessened fear of catching the virus has caused air travel to recover heavily in the past few months.
With millions of people out of quarantine and crowded at airports and travel destinations, there could be several health consequences to the travelers, even though the pandemic has been greatly mitigated. Hundreds of planes being ungrounded and brought back to service, and middle seats have been unblocked on all major airlines. With travel demand up and middle seats unblocked, hundreds of people are huddled together in a compact space if a plane is full. Although the regular variant of COVID-19 is highly difficult to contract on planes, there could be an exception with some mutants, such as the new strain from India. The travelers’ protection, the COVID-19 vaccine, has also been shown to not be as effective against the mutated variant as they are against the normal virus. This could mean that if the virus spreads to the United States amid this high point of travel demand, many people could be infected, and a new wave of the pandemic could be sparked in the country.
Overall, air travel has increased so aggressively in these past few months that domestic travel demand has almost reached the levels it was at in 2019. People are travelling almost as frequently as they were before the pandemic due to a greatly reduced fear of COVID-19 from vaccines and the unlikelihood of virus transmission on planes. Even though the airline industry is benefitting from this, there could be consequences for the several millions of people travelling each week. It could start a new wave of coronavirus and cause a large number of people to be infected again, which would push the pandemic even further. As airlines are increasing their airfares as more people travel, it is unsure if travel demand will remain as high as it is now or slow down later in the summer. Even with such risks, it is at least great to see the aviation industry making a recovery after the difficult times it experienced in 2020.
Cover Image: DW
Cathay Pacific Chair and CEO report results from 2022, and expected recovery levels for this year
In a press conference attended by Aviation for Aviators, Top executives at Cathay pacific reported on the company’s growth and recovery during the year before answering questions from the media. In the opening statement provided by the company’s chair, Patrick Healy, he talked about the recovery levels expected from the airline in the year, and the profits from the previous year.
The Company’s results
When talking about the year of 2022, Patrick Healy said “Our airlines and subsidiaries reported an attributable profit of 2.3 Billion dollars in the second half of 2022.” This indicates recovery at the airline, as this is reportedly the first time the company has made a profit since 2019. This matches many other airlines in the time period, as the industry begins to take back the areas which it has lost due to the pandemic. When talking about profits at Cathay Pacific, this not only includes the main area of the airline, but also their Cargo and Low cost airlines and firms as well. The Pandemic was particularly damaging to many of the airlines in East Asia, as China’s COVID regulations were harsh, and in some areas, are still being lifted. This is important because in most cases, China has the largest group of tourists travelling with east Asian airlines, and so for them to have harsh regulations would drastically decrease passenger numbers.
In terms of recovery this year, Healy Stated “By the end of March, as a group, we will be operating approximately 50% pre-pandemic flight capacity”, a figure which some might view to be low compared to others. However, when talking about recovery in terms of destinations, Healy said that they would be “Serving more than 70 destinations.” The Chair then continued to say that these numbers should be increasing by the end of the year. However these are still not close enough to the levels they were before the pandemic, as would be expected with most airlines.
How is Cathay Pacific ensuring that their fleet is as environmentally friendly as possible?
In answer to a question about the environment asked by Aviation for Aviators, Cathay Pacific’s CEO, Ronald Lam, Said: “Being a leader in sustainability is a very important part of our strategy moving forwards, and in fact we have announced our commitment for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050; as well as usage of 10% Sustainable Aviation Fuel by 2030. We have been making plans and implementing actions to make this happen. So, for example, last year, we launched the first ever corporate sustainable aviation fuel program in Asia which is joined by a number of partners from different sectors. We are very encouraged by their participation. We have also signed up with a number of different parties sourcing for SAF for the future. We have an investment in a company called Fulcrum in the US in which they have offered to supply us with a good quality of sustainable aviation fuel for the future. And also we have signed up another company called Amadeus with uptake of SAF in the future. So we are working to us building more SAF supply to reach our 2030 target in the coming years. So that’s one main area, working on the SAF. Another Area, We will continue to upgrade our aircraft to new generation aircraft. From this year onward, we still have 48 firm aircraft orders that will be delivered. And each of those aircraft will provide up to 15-20% fuel efficiency and therefore lower carbon emissions compared to their counterparts in the older generation. So those are the two main focuses that we have on sustainability. “
In Simple terms, Cathay Pacific is making a commitment to the environment, in particular with the use of Sustainable Aviation fuel, that is, fuel which emits no negative impact on the environment. They also are trying to keep their fleet modern and efficient, to ensure that the least amount of damage is made.
In Conclusion, Cathay Pacific are making significant advancements in the way that they are recovering from the Pandemic and the damage which it has caused to the aviation industry. In terms of recovery, whilst progress may be slow, this is something expected of the airline as many others are going through similar things at the same time. With regards to environmental impact, Cathay Pacific is making commitments to make its aviation cleaner, with a new fleet and sustainable aviation fuel developments on the way.
Please Note: All information was taken from Cathay Pacific’s March 8th 2023 Press conference.
Cover Image credit: NPR
Why flying empty makes sense at the moment
With the current spreading Omicron variant, many airlines have announced a reduced network for the upcoming weeks. Instead of slow growth, we see yet another fallback and the recovery of the industry seems still far away. In these times it seems logical to avoid any unnecessary costs, yet still Lufthansa (despite cancelling 33’000 flights in January and February) will fly more than 18000 flights empty. These flights are not for maintenance reasons, nor for aircraft positioning, nor for pilot training reasons or full with cargo. The reason lies within an absurd rule of the European Union regarding airport slots.
What are airport slots?
In simple words: An airport slot is a time window when an airline is allowed to land and depart at any airport. As airport capacities (before COVID19) were limited, also the number of slots per time window was limited and the slots were a crucial instrument for any airline. Slots were seeing a high demand and good slots were difficult to get, as the “old” airlines had priority (“grandfather rights”), when the slots were distributed twice a year at an IATA conference. Any airline was keeping their slots unless they did not want them anymore. The only criteria were that they had used the slot in 80% or more in the last period.
How is it now?
When COVID19 started to affect our globe, it was clear that this 80% rule will not be met by any airline, as the industry collapsed. As an exemption, this criteria was not active and airlines could reapply for their slots, even though they had not used them a lot (slot waiver rule). This was done for the schedules of summer 2020 and winter 2020/2021. For the winter of 2021/2022, the European Union has once more reduced the value by 80%. This time 50% of all flights have to be operated to qualify for the grandfather rights. With the current situation, these flights could not be operated as demand is too low. To keep the rights for the slots, airlines now will fly empty to just use their slots at different airports.
The slots are a crucial way to harmonize the global aviation network. It is of utmost importance that they are handled with a global view to match all needs. However; in a situation such as the pandemic we are in, criteria must be changed to not put the additional (unnecessary) cost to the airlines – not to forget the environmental aspect of these flights.
- https://www.reisereporter.de/artikel/12071-fliegen-trotz-corona-schuetzen-schleier-aus-luft-passagiere-kuenftig (Cover Image)
Thousands of pilots were forced into quarantine in Hong Kong
Over the past 2 months, hundreds of pilots have been forced into three-week long quarantine periods in Hong Kong’s Penny’s Bay facility. The rooms consisted of converted shipping containers and people staying there were allowed no outdoor time. Pilots in the quarantine have come from a variety of airlines, like British Airways and Cathay Pacific.
A huge number of Cathay Pacific staff was forced into three-week quarantine after coming into contact with a COVID carrier in Frankfurt, Germany. Even though the crew’s PCR tests were negative, they were considered “potential close contacts”. The rooms were simple, with a bed and a bathroom, not much else. Hong Kong has imposed a strict testing and isolation regime to keep on track with China’s policies, but this is causing many pilots to isolate themselves when returning from abroad.
The spread of the new Omicron variant is causing travel to be restricted a lot, and more and more pilots and crew are having to isolate. When pilots and crew first arrive in Hong Kong, they do a PCR test and wait for it. Those who are negative are told to isolate themselves at home. They are then told to “avoid unnecessary contact” for a further 18 days. If pilots test positive or are marked as close contacts, they are sent to the facility for 21 days. Family members are often sent to quarantine too.
Air crew flying into Hong Kong also have to follow these rules, with crews from airlines such as KLM and British airways having to isolate. Luckily, a group of Hong Kong citizens has come to the rescue, providing supplies to people undergoing quarantine. These supplies often include food, as the food in Penny’s Bay is almost like something you might find in economy class on an airplane. This food is estimated to cost around 30 HK$, equivalent to £3 in the UK.
Many pilots have been released before the end of their proposed quarantine, but that doesn’t mean that all have gone. People continue to be sent to Penny’s Bay and other facilities around Honk Kong, even though the city remains with very few coronavirus cases. For now, all we can say is that one of the largest aviation hubs is likely to stop having crews fly there in many cases.
- @flywitheva on Instagram
- bloomberg.com (Cover Image)
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