Why the restart in aviation is so difficult

Frankfurt Summer should finally fix it. The global aviation industry, more or less on the ground for about a year due to the coronavirus, is relying on a strong recovery in demand. Close tests and mass vaccinations will finally put the Covid 19 pandemic in its place, so the hope is.

The chances of this are actually good, even if it will be a long time before air transport reaches pre-crisis levels. But people want to travel, want to get out. That was clearly shown by the rush to the German ski areas around the holidays.

For companies in the industry, especially airlines, the restart means a lot of work without empirical values. The virus and the related forced break have created a situation like never before.

The finely balanced and close-knit route network is severely disturbed. International air traffic is still almost completely paralyzed because of the extensive travel restrictions. This is shown by data from the UK-based information service OAG, which specializes in aviation. The company regularly analyzes the links on which the most seats are offered. A major shift can be observed here in January of this year.

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In 2019 – the last normal year before the start of the pandemic – the classic “race track” London-New York was among the top 10 busiest international routes. It lives not least from the strong demand from the English financial center.

This route will no longer appear in January 2021. Instead, the city pair London-Dubai can be found here – even in first place. At the same time, surprising connections such as Paris-Fort de France (Martinique) or Moscow-Simferopol (Crimea) can be found in this ranking.

Bringing the global network back up to date is a daunting task. This is especially true for those airlines that control their traffic largely via hubs, like this for example Lufthansa, British Airways or Air France-KLM do. Their big planes have to be filled. This is done via feeder flights. Depending on the connection, passengers from up to 40 feeders can sit in a long-haul aircraft.

However, these feeder services are often heavily thinned out because of the pandemic. The quality of connections between airports and the rest of the world, known as connectivity, has suffered massively in the past few months. This is illustrated by the list of the largest airports in Europe.

Frankfurt – still number one in Europe in terms of the number of flight movements in 2019 – had to give up this place to its rivals in Amsterdam in Corona year 2020 and has slipped to third place. Another noticeable feature in this list: With the smaller Istanbul airport Sabiha Gökçen and the airport in Oslo, two names appear that are otherwise listed under “also ran”.

For the restart in summer, good connectivity is very important, especially to fill up the long-haul aircraft. The decision as to when the right time is to restart the feeder flights to the full is quite a delicate one. If that happens too early, the airlines will burn unnecessary money. If that happens too late, competitors could sit down on individual routes and make restarting the network provider even more difficult.

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Because Corona has also changed the competition among airlines. The ranking of the airlines with the most take-offs and landings has shifted over the past year. While Ryanair was able to keep at the top, large network providers such as Lufthansa and British Airways have lost places. At the same time, the Hungarian low-cost operator Wizz Air made it into the top 10 for the first time.

The data shows how well the low-cost airlines have come through the crisis so far. Ryanair may have cut the offer massively, but the managers there are also the first to offer routes again as soon as the framework conditions are right. Wizz Air, on the other hand, attracted attention even in the middle of the crisis with its aggressive growth and the opening of new connections. This makes it a growing competition for Lufthansa and Co.

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It is not easy to restart the offers. The airlines have temporarily shut down large parts of their fleets. According to the European aviation security organization Eurocontrol, more than 4,100 jets of European airlines were unused on the ground at the end of 2020. That is slightly more than half of the total of around 8,000 aircraft that European airlines have in service.

That is significantly less than in April, when Corona almost completely brought air traffic to a standstill. At that time, according to Eurocontrol, 87 percent of the aircraft were parked for longer. But the continued large number of temporarily decommissioned aircraft worries the supervisory authorities, which can result in damage to the stand. The European EASA therefore warns the airlines in its document “Return to service of aircraft after storage“The operators pay too much attention.

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Damage can be caused by the sometimes long idle times in different places. Valves in the hydraulic system could stick, the fuel that remained in the tanks when parking could have absorbed water or the brake system could have lost pressure.

Birds or insects often nestle in the engine or in other sensitive areas. This was the experience of the crew of a jet operated by the Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air in June. You had to abort the start of a machine that had previously been parked for over three months due to error messages. The jet had been checked through, but insect larvae that had been placed in one of the pitot tubes to measure its speed had missed them.

The tragic accident of a chartered Birgenair aircraft in 1996 shows how dangerous such a thing can be. There, too, insects blocked the pitot tube, and the pilots lost control of the jet because of the completely contradicting data. 189 people were killed in the crash.

The Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737 that crashed a few days ago was also on the ground from March to December 22, 2020 due to the consequences of the pandemic. Since then she had made several flights again – without any problems. In addition, it is still too early to speculate about the cause of the crash. But experts also point out the problem of long idle times in connection with the accident.

More: Corona pandemic: Tui, Condor and Wizz Air discover the freight

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