What Is The Effect of Coronavirus on Aviation?

What is the effect of Coronavirus on aviation?

So unless you’re a hermit, I’m sure you’re all aware of what’s happening in the world right now. Coronavirus is all anyone’s talking about. I’ve been wondering, what is the effect of Coronavirus on aviation? Let’s find out.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is actually a family of virus’, not one single virus. The specific virus that’s ravaging our world at the moment is SARS-CoV2. This stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. But from here on out, to keep things simple, let’s just continue to call it Coronavirus.

Artists image of coronavirus
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

This particular virus attaches to the lungs and has the potential to cause serious respiratory problems. This is especially true in people who have underlying health conditions, or the elderly. The disease that Coronavirus causes is called COVID-19, which stands for Coronavirus Disease 2019. 

The first known cases of Coronavirus started in Wuhan, China. The virus is thought to have originated in bats, and somehow mutated enough to allow inter-species transmission, primarily from animal to human.

Why is Coronavirus so serious?

Coronavirus is bringing the world to it’s knees. Yes, the effect of Coronavirus on aviation is immense, but nearly every industry is being affected. 

It’s fair to say that the mortality rate for Coronavirus (COVID-19) is fairly low. At approximately 4.6% at the time of writing, its lower than SARS from a few years back, and much lower than MERS. That being said, 4.6% of a very large number is also a very large number. This is one reason why Coronavirus is so serious.

The other reason is due to the fact that this virus has been able to spread faster than any other virus in living memory. It may seem to resemble the Bruce Willis movie, “12 Monkeys”, and although this virus is nowhere near as deadly as the virus in that movie, it’s definitely able to transfer from person to person at a dramatic rate.

How bad is Coronavirus compared to previous virus’?

I’ll keep this paragraph short and sweet, as the numbers will be enough to show you how potent this virus is.

SARS took approximately 8 months to infect about 8000 people. Of those infected, approximately 800 died, which gives us about a 10% mortality rate. This is quite high, but due to the low number of infections, it didn’t kill a huge amount of people.

MERS infected approximately 2500 people over several months. Of those infected people, there were about 860 deaths, giving an approximate 35% mortality rate. Now this is an immense mortality rate, but because of the very low infection rate, once again there weren’t many deaths.

COVID-19, to date, has infected about 370000 people. It has killed approximately 16300. That’s only a 4.6% mortality rate. But as I mentioned. A small percentage of a large number is also a large number.

This is why Coronavirus is such a serious worldwide issue.

So get to the meat of it, what is the effect of Coronavirus on aviation?

The short answer to the questions is, severe.

This is the effect of coronavirus on aviation
Frank Rumpenhorst via Getty Images

Aviation is a $880billion industry. Obviously, to be able to fly to other countries, these countries need to be allowing airplanes to enter. With Coronavirus spreading as rapidly as it is, this isn’t happening. Many countries, especially in Europe, have placed restrictions and even outright bans are in place. The aim of this is to restrict the spread of the virus. This means that an enormous amount of flights are having to be cancelled. 

The other problem is that, apart from freight, the aviation industry depends on passengers flying. Unfortunately, right now, that just isn’t happening. The last few weeks have seen a massive decline in the amount of passengers turning up for flights. Sectors that are scheduled to be full are pushing back with huge amounts of no-shows. This is scary. Now, with the governments restrictions on non-essential travel, this has just been exacerbated.

How much is it costing the aviation industry?

As mentioned earlier, the aviation industry is worth about $880billion. Coronavirus is set to hit airlines with approximately a $113billion loss over the next few months. This is quite simply a staggering amount of money. 

Why are planes still flying?

Many airlines, including the one I work for, are still flying for good reasons. All over Europe and the world, many passengers are stuck due to cancelled flights. Repatriation flights are continuing to help those passengers get home.

There have also been some commercial flights going on, but these are mainly domestic. After today though, many, if not all of these flights will also been cancelled. This is due to Monday’s (23/03/20) announcement by the prime minister that everyone should stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

Below is a little infographic to show the detriment of Coronavirus on flights. Courtesy of Visual Capitalist.

You’re grounded! How coronavirus has demolished the aviation sector
Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

Will the airlines recover?

Unfortunately, this is difficult to know. If someone tells you they know how long this is going to last for, they’re lying. Nobody knows, especially the airlines. The problem is not just the virus. Once we have finally managed to defeat Coronavirus itself, we then have to deal with the economical aftermath. These repercussions will probably last for years. 

It’s safe to say that some airlines have very healthy balance sheets. These have been brought around by many years of consistent strong profits. These airlines are likely to be able to push through this storm, but will have to fight hard to get on top once things get back to some kind of normality.

The airline I work for have a cash reserve of over £1.5billion. This should be able to let them sit on the ground and not operate any flights for about 5 months and still survive afterwards. Airlines like mine don’t want this to happen though. Cost cutting is an absolute necessity, which is why airlines are taking steps already. There have been many articles in the news recently showing CEO’s and senior management taking hefty pay cuts to help save not only the airline, but the jobs of the employees too.

It really is impossible though, to tell which airlines will recover and which won’t. We simply don’t have enough information yet to foresee this. We also simply don’t know how long this will go on for. That being said, governments seem to be sticking by companies and doing what they can to help. Fingers crossed there’s some hope for us all!

What does this all mean if I am training to be a pilot?

Many of you know that the aviation industry is a cyclic system. It goes up. It goes down. Think of it as a sine curve.

The effect of Coronavirus on aviation
A typical sine curve – similar to the aviation industry

After 9/11 confidence in aviation hit an all time low. The aviation industry suffered huge losses and airlines quite simply halted all recruitment. Then slowly, as consumer confidence began to increase again, airlines welcomed new CV’s and pilots and cabin crew were able to get jobs again!

Right now, we are somewhere near, if not right at the bottom of the sine curve. No airlines are recruiting now, nor will they be for the next year at least. Everything is just too volatile at the moment. 

The good news is, that it will get better. If you have a year or two of training left, you’re probably one of the lucky ones to be in the right place at the right time. Most airlines have more or less written off making any substantial profits this summer. I imagine most now expect to make a loss. This means that they will be expecting next summer to be their come back story. This will be the crucial time where money can be regenerated. Once this begins to happen, doors will open again as expansion will once again be on the cards. 

The moral of this story is, don’t lose hope. This is an industry that, although it seems impossible to get into right now, will bounce back with ferocity. It always does. You have to understand the magic words:

People Want Holidays!

This isn’t an issue that causes mass fear and loss of confidence in the aviation industry. That was 9/11, this is just a virus that we will overcome and be all the better for it. And hey, I bet my bottom dollar that there will be some cracking deals on the internet for passengers during this coming winter and next summer. There has to be. Because if the airlines want that cash flow back, they are going to have to pull out all the stops to do so. That means deals, discounts and packages galore!

That’s the effect of Coronavirus on the aviation industry

Anyway, that’s enough on this misery inducing subject. Let’s move on to something fun and futuristic next time. Maybe something to do with the future of aviation? Something to do with electrification?

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I look forward to seeing you in the next post. If you’ve enjoyed this content and feel others may benefit from it too, then please do share it.

See you in the next one.

Happy Contrails.

The Humble Pilot