The global aircraft fleet recovery is a tale of trifurcation

A year on, the global fleet is taking three different paths to recovery around the world -- and highly dependent on geography.

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Release Date
April 21, 2021
The global aircraft fleet recovery is a tale of trifurcation
  • A year after global air travel hit bottom, Europe severely lags the world in capacity recovery, while India’s recent infection spike threatens South Asia’s strong return.
  • Widebody aircraft continue to lag all smaller aircraft, while narrowbodies are seeing a steady return into the leisure-heavy recovery.
  • Regional aircraft are showing a distinct split between aircraft flown as part of a larger partner network, and the challenged independent airlines.

The global airline fleet is not recovering evenly. With global scheduled capacity up over 92% from April 2020, that metric serves better to illustrate just how terrible last April was than how good we find it in 2021. Compared to 2019, the global fleet is producing 53% fewer seat-miles. We’re a long way from where we were before the pandemic.

Yet, the global number tells little about how the differing regions and aircraft types are faring at the one-year mark since the 2020 trough. As the industry has witnessed since the start of the pandemic, smaller, domestic-facing narrow-body fleets have significantly outperformed the wide-bodies reliant on international travel. One year beyond the official declaration of the global pandemic, this trend continues.

Related: Aircraft out of storage and into the frying pan

Aviation’s return to steady-state is becoming increasingly nuanced as recovery velocities and trajectories diverge. Part of a trend followed by TAC Analysis closely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, larger aircraft have disproportionately suffered as their core market of long-haul, international flying evaporated. Concurrently, narrowbodies and regional jets have regained more of their 2019 flying, largely due to their smaller size and exposure to domestic networks, less affected by travel restrictions.

Yet, the divergence of recoveries extends beyond aircraft type. Different regions are not only experiencing different rates of overall recovery, but also different rates of recovery by aircraft type. As progress continues toward once-and-future levels of flying, it is the individual segmentations of flying that will matter most.

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