The impact of covid-19 on us commercial passenger airline fleets

The impact of covid-19 on us commercial passenger airline fleets

Airlines 2020-05-18
If you’ve been one of those folks who have been glued to the television following up on the impacts of COVID-19 on American aviation and really know your up-to-date news, it’s been an extremely rough couple of months. Airlines have been going through the ringer. From losing tons of money to arguing back and forth with DOT for CARES Act exemptions and having to lessen their employment obligations to several employees. And what makes this crisis on the economy at large and aviation even more insane is that no one really knows the full impact it will truly have on a whole. The airlines have been trying to do damage control. Most have been operating fewer flights and aircraft as a response to the reduced demand for passenger flights. But if you are an aviation geek, one might be intrigued to see how each airline’s fleet would react to COVID-19 - which kind are going through it the hardest? Despite decreased fuel costs, do airlines prefer more up-to-date and efficient equipment? Surprisingly, there hasn’t been quite as much coverage as one would expect on the impact of COVID-19 on aviation, however, there has been some insight of the overall number of flights getting operated in a comparison, pre-crisis vs. post crisis scheduling. Below are charts that show the total number of unique aircraft by type that flew each week for each airline dating back from December 30, 2018 through April 26, 2020. This includes all flights that were identified, initially derived by ADS-B reports, followed by JetTip’s data provider, including cargo, ferry, maintenance, etc. With that being said, not every single one of these flights were actually revenue passenger flights. Some flights are being operated to stay current with maintenance requirements while many carriers are doing cargo-only flights. These charts also include a percentage in the legend that shows a significant change between the week of March 1st, 2020 (the week many consider the calm before the storm, pre-crisis) and the week of April 26th, 2020.


Southwest has a fleet of 737 aircraft and operates the most mainline flights in the U.S. In the earlier stages of 2019 you can tell that things were pretty much steady with around 700 operating aircraft. But as a result of COVID-19, Southwest has been operating with much lesser numbers with a small number of 737-800s dropping out of circulation and ⅓ of their smaller 737-700s not even operating at all. Overall, Southwest as of last week has operated 169 fewer aircraft in comparison to the beginning of March.


By nearly 100 aircraft, Delta’s operating wide-body fleet has decreased. The A350, A330neo and 777-200ER have done better; however, other aircraft were cut deeply like the older A330s and 767s. Delta’s narrow-body fleet has decreased its roster by 400 members. A majority of their MD-90s, the A320s, 737-900ERs and both flavors of 757 have been completely grounded. Also, another aircraft that has been impacted is the new efficient A220-100. Recently Delta has announced that in June the MD-88s and MD-90s will leave the fleet entirely. DELTA AIR LINESDELTA AIR LINESIn the wake of COVID-19, American Airlines has announced the largest number of fleet retirements. Some that will be leaving the fleet soon include their 757-200s, A330-300s, 767-300ERs, E190s, and PSA’s CRJ200s. And remarkably enough, based on the data below, it seems that the last revenue  flights of those specific types for American have already taken place. For the other remaining, cuts have been to a minimum. It's 777-300 ER, the larger belly cargo are even more airborne than the 777-200ER. Since the beginning of March up to last week, American operated about 350 fewer aircraft.

American Airlines

American AirlinesUNITED AIRLINES

United has reduced about 400 aircraft from their active roster. On the narrow-body side, their 757s and 737-800/900s have been hit the hardest. Those that have been cut completely include the smaller versions of the Triple Seven and Dreamliner; while the 767s have come very close to entirely stopping. As a result of COVID-19, United hasn’t announced any fleet retirements. But if they were to follow in American’s footsteps to consolidate, the 757 and 767 would be ideal candidates.


JetBlue has evolved significantly by reducing its active fleet to 100 from their original 250 fleet and they have made 60% of cuts to their A320, E190, and A321 fleets.


Alaska Airlines reduced their active fleet to 80 from 250.


Their Airbus fleet has cut down around 50 from 150. But for the most part their newer A320neo has fared well and their conventional A320s are still in service.


Frontier cut everything but the A320neo which was so different from any carrier, reducing the fleet from about 100 to 55.


Earlier on, Allegiant made some deep cuts, but has since been adding more aircraft to the active fleet so that they can resume service something that the DOT has commanded; they seem to prefer the much larger A320 over their A319s.


Hawaiian’s long-haul A321neos are grounded. 717s remain in service, and two-thirds of the A330-200S are completely out of service.


Sun Country has a somewhat simpler fleet, with a single charter-configured 737-700 and 737-800s. Many may also notice that the Transavia lease aircraft , that’s operated by Sun Country do not appear below even though they have been in use over both winter seasons. SUN COUNTRYOverall, before COVID-19 impacted the industry, there were 4,065 aircraft flying based on the mainline commercial passenger airlines surveyed. As of last week, there was a combined reduction of 48%, 2,133 aircraft flying with each airline reducing their fleets by 51%. So many fleets have been retired. As of now there is so much that’s left uncertain for the future.