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  • Airlines are using a clear strategy when deciding what aircraft to keep flying and what to park or retire.
  • Small narrow-bodies and regional aircraft are retaining more capacity relative to larger counterparts.
  • Older aircraft retirements to make way for unwanted deliveries reducing the financial flexibility of the airlines.
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The rows of neatly parked aircraft prompt uneasy questions about the future, but there are answers to be found in those left flying. The newly-transformed fleets reveal how airlines are attempting to preserve solvency and their survival amid the coronavirus crisis.

To address the negative cash flow from flying empty, TAC Analysis has identified that airlines are relying heavily on smaller, less-costly aircraft. Almost overnight, coronavirus has reversed a trend that shaped the global aviation business for the last decade as carriers sought out big airplanes like Airbus A321s and Boeing 777-300ERs.

According to schedules published by OAG, there is a clear relationship between aircraft size and how much capacity each type continues to provide. In short, the larger the aircraft, the greater the reduction in flying.

Related: Confusion among U.S. airlines as airplanes fly virtually empty to get bailout funds

This finding helps answer the question originally posed by TAC: How can airlines reduce the scale of their networks to better align with near-zero demand, without materially impacting the network’s reach? Our original hypothesis — now backed by observable schedule data — was that there would be fewer reductions for smaller aircraft while larger aircraft would find their way to parking lots.

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Courtney Miller is Managing Director of Analysis for The Air Current. Miller most recently spent 10-years with Bombardier Aerospace, serving as director, North America sales for the company’s commercial aircraft line and led airline marketing and analysis for the western hemisphere for airlines in North and South America and the community of global aircraft lessors. Miller is also founder of visualapproach.io, where he merged industry history and analysis with insightful and beautiful data visualization to illustrate contemporary trends. Miller is a 3,000-hour U.S. airline pilot and began his career flying for U.S. regional airline Comair. He holds a Masters of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle University and a Bachelors of Science in Aviation Technology from Purdue University. He is based in the Dallas, Texas Metroplex.

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