New figures have revealed the dramatic impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on aviation around the world. 

The travel analysts OAG track fluctuating air capacity for every country and airline on the planet. Its data shows how, since the Covid-19 outbreak began spreading around the world in January, the number of available plane seats has fallen by more than 80% in the worst affected destinations. 

Globally, capacity has been cut by 15.2%. But with many airlines flying with thousands of empty seats, the decline in actual passenger numbers is likely to be far higher. Furthermore, the impact of America’s ban on flights from Europe, announced last week, is not yet reflected in the figures.  

Worst hit are China and its neighbours. In the week commencing January 20, 16,882,726 seats were offered on flights to and from the world’s most populous country. This week the figure is 8,987,474, a fall of 46.8%. While dramatically lower, this actually represents a significant rally after a weekly low of 4,690,056 seats in mid-February. The special administrative region of Hong Kong has seen no such rebound: 844,156 seats were available from January 20-26, for March 16-22 the figure is just 165,589 – a fall of 80.4%. Mongolia has seen an even sharper collapse in weekly air capacity, from 13,152 to 2,024 (down 84.6%). 

Japan (down 22.3%), Thailand (down 33.1%), Vietnam (down 26.8%) and Malaysia (down 29%), all countries that rely on Chinese tourism, have also witnessed big falls in air capacity.

South Korea, the country in Asia, after China, worst affected by coronavirus, has also taken a big hit. From January 20-26, 1,823,750 plane seats were on offer; this week it’s 710,558 (down 61%).

In Europe, it is Italy that has been bearing the brunt. The whole country has been on lockdown since last week and airlines have been forced to cancel hundreds of flights. At the start of the year there were 1,775,401 weekly seats available on air services to and from the country; now it’s just 500,577 (down 71.8%). 

Germany (down 21.2%) and Turkey (down 15.3%) have also seen significant drops. 

In terms of airlines, OAG’s figures present few surprises. China’s carriers have cut services by up to 88.9% (the figure for Hong Kong Airlines), Alitalia has cut capacity by 78.1%, while Lufthansa (down 42.2%), SWISS (down 43.1%), and even Ryanair (down 29.7%) are suffering.

The impact on British Airways is not yet apparent – it offered 1,089,286 weekly seats in January; this week it’s 1,026,345 – but this is just the start. Countries around the world are closing their borders, or introducing strict restrictions on arrivals from countries with major coronavirus outbreaks, and airlines are decimating their schedules (Norwegian, for example, has just suspended 85% of all its flights; Virgin Atlantic likewise). Today the Foreign Office advised Britons against all but essential overseas travel for the next 30 days. Expect the figures for next week, particularly for UK airlines, to be even more shocking. 

According to John Grant, senior analyst at OAG, the scale of the global aviation shutdown is unprecedented. “This has never been seen before, and the impact not just on aviation but global trade will be immense,” he said. “Furthermore, it has the potential to go deeper before any shoots of recovery appear. It’s really a matter of time for some markets that are less impacted to see the same results as we are now seeing in Europe.” For many airlines, he added, collapse could be “weeks away”. 

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