This article from Friday pointed out that contrary to the expectations of many, there were still a huge number of flights operating around the globe. Incredibly, even as COVID-19 has shut borders and sent millions into self-isolation at home, you can book flights to a variety of destinations, and for the most part prices are good.
As expected that picture has changed somewhat over the past few days, with new announcements of airline shutdowns, new border closings, and a corresponding drop in flights. Emirates made headlines announcing they would soon stop all passenger flights – a particularly unsettling announcement for those who follow aviation because of just how big Emirates is. (Emirates revised that a few hours later to say a small percentage of flights would continue, but then the UAE instituted a blanket ban on all flights for 14 days, meaning the shut down, though temporary, would indeed be total.) And Asia has seen a number of new cuts even as the situation there was seeming to improve, with new lockdowns being put in place to protect against a renewed wave of coronavirus infections as people return to the region.
And yet on Sunday Flightradar24 measured 102,181 total flights. That’s down 30,000 from Friday, but it’s still a six-figure count. Keep in mind this includes all manner of flights and is not just made up of commercial service on big jets. There are private flights, general aviation (small planes), helicopter flights to oil rigs, military flights, medical evacuations and more. Still more are special flights run by major airlines, for example to repatriate citizens. But there’s one sector in particular providing a boost, and even making money as this unprecedented global crisis unfolds.
Cargo is profitable
Quite a few of the planes in the sky at the moment, especially transatlantic, are cargo planes. Why? Even as people have mostly stopped flying, cargo still needs to move. And passenger flights carry lots of cargo in the hold (as much as 80 percent of all transatlantic cargo, even) so as those have been cut, available space for freight is dwindling. That’s driven prices up. It’s been reported that the price per kilogram of air freight right now is double or even four times the usual price, and that means that even as many parts of the economy suffer, cargo operators see a chance to make some money. Deutsche Post, which owns DHL, even thinks it can reach its profit goal this year. Azerbaijani cargo operator Silk Way is expanding, with new runs to Dallas beginning in April. And airlines like American have started running some passengers planes on dedicated cargo flights.
So which airlines are grounded, or close to it?
As of today, several more airlines have shut down most or all of their operations temporarily. Some of the major airlines in this category include the following.
Completely shut down
– Emirates & Etihad (UAE): grounded for 14 days from March 25.
– Copa (Panama): shut down until at least April 21.
– Austrian Airlines: shut down until at least March 28.
– Brussels Airline: shut down until at least April 19.
– AirBaltic (Latvia): shut down until at least April 14.
Operating a small number of flights
– United Airlines: has cut 90% of flights in April and May.
– American Airlines: 75% of international flights halted through May 6.
– Delta: 80% of international flights cut, 70% of network overall.
– Virgin Atlantic: around 80% of flights cut until further notice.
– SAS: 90% of flights cut until further notice.
– Finnair: 90% of flights cut until further notice.
– KLM: 90% of flights cut until further notice.
– Norwegian: 85% of all flights cut and no long-haul flights currently operating.
– LOT Polish: has suspended all international flights.
– Singapore Airlines: 96% of flights cut through end April.
– Cathay Pacific: 96% of flights cut through May.
– Turkish Airlines: will fly to just five cities from Istanbul as of March 27.
– Avianca: ceasing international flights as of today, and cutting most domestic flights as well, for at least 30 days.