When the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus first started to impact all areas of life in February, including the global aerospace industry, it was difficult to understand what type of long-term impact it could have. As regulators started implementing travel restrictions and passenger flying came to a halt between mid-March and April, it was still difficult to comprehend the virus’s long-term impact, especially as so many carriers kept operating cargo flights.
However, as major aerospace companies completed the second quarter and started holding earnings calls, the answers became increasingly clear. Collectively, most experts and analysts believe it could take up to three years for passenger air travel to return to pre-COVID-19 or 2019 levels.
At this point, even that type of estimation is difficult to fathom, considering how many passenger aircraft airliners have grounded or removed from service permanently. As an example, both British Airways and Qantas Airways completely retired their Boeing 747 fleet. Delta Air Lines permanently retired 100 aircraft and temporarily removed another 600 from commercial service after reporting a $5.7 billion loss for the second quarter. Lufthansa’s “ReNew” program estimates that the German carrier will permanently remove at least 100 aircraft from its fleet by 2023.
More than 25 airlines also filed for bankruptcy in the second quarter, with most continuing to operate through the bankruptcy protection period while still laying off thousands of workers.
So, if the experts are correct and passenger demand for air travel returns to 2019 levels within three years, the type of aircraft passengers are in and the airlines operating them could look much different.
As aerospace companies continue navigating these unprecedented times, we used this issue to provide updates and insights from around the industry. Laurie Garrow, a professor at Georgia Tech and co-director of the university’s Center for Urban and Regional Air Mobility, provides a deep dive into how airlines are responding to the crisis based on discussions held at the recent Airline Group of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (AGIFORS) virtual conference. We also feature executive Q&As with NXTCOMM and Collins Aerospace, and I provide some updates on OEMs as well some of the new COVID-19-inspired technologies, concepts and initiatives introduced in recent months.