Empty skies: How coronavirus has crippled air travel

Commercial air travel has fallen sharply amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Commercial air travel has fallen sharply amid the coronavirus outbreak. © Flightradar24 / FRANCE 24

From Europe to Asia and North America, the skies have been unusually empty of commercial aircraft in recent weeks as countries close borders and enforce travel restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, forcing airlines worldwide to ground most of their fleets.

Advertising

In the final week of March, commercial flights were down 55 percent on the year before, according to tracking site Flightradar24.

At midday on March 30 Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, had just four flights in its airspace.

Airports have been left almost empty, while some, including Orly in Paris, have closed entirely.

The situation has left many airlines facing financial disaster with the industry expecting annual losses of $252 billion (€232bn), according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“We are facing an unprecedented crisis at a level and order of magnitude that is unknown. So, it is the most severe crisis we have been in for the last 20 years, worse than September 11, worse than the 2008 financial crisis. It is unprecedented,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s CEO, told Reuters.

The IATA is calling on governments to speed up bailouts for airlines such as the $58 billion (€53bn) rescue package announced by the US last week. 

“We have seen cost reductions, tax reliefs, so governments are trying to do the job. What has now to be done and very fast is the cash,” said De Juniac. “We urgently ask governments to implement and to inject cash by all means in the airlines business.”

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning