A third of the world's air routes have been lost due to Covid

Lost routes thrust aviation’s economic miracle into reverse; some services may be gone for good, making travel tougher.

By Bloomberg News, November 13 2020
A third of the world's air routes have been lost due to Covid

Before the coronavirus, a decades-long aviation boom spawned a network of nearly 50,000 air routes that traversed the world. In less than a year, the pandemic has wiped almost a third of them off the map.

Border closures, nationwide lockdowns and the fear of catching Covid-19 from fellow passengers have crippled commercial travel. As thousands of domestic and international connections disappear completely from airline timetables, the world has suddenly stopped shrinking.

The crisis is unwinding a vast social and industrial overhaul that took place during half a century of air-travel proliferation.

In years to come, overseas business trips and holidays will likely mean more airport stopovers, longer journey times, and perhaps an additional mode of transport. Even when an effective vaccine is found, the economic reality of the recovery may mean some non-stop flights are gone for good.

Losing connection

With borders effectively shut from Europe to New Zealand, the bulk of the world’s dropped routes are inevitably cross-border. But thousands of domestic legs have also been axed, reflecting the pressure airlines face at home as they cut jobs and retire aircraft to find a cost base that reflects their shrunken situation.

In late January, 47,756 operational routes criss-crossed the world, more than half of them in the U.S., Western Europe and Northeast Asia, according to OAG Aviation Worldwide. By November 2, there were just 33,416 routes on global schedules, the data show.

In Hervey Bay, a small tourist town on Australia’s east coast, residents are mourning their last direct air connection with Sydney, the nation’s main domestic and international gateway.

The flight was one of eight regional routes scrapped by Virgin Australia after it collapsed in April under $6.8 billion in debt.

“We’re living in hope that they come back,” said Darren Everard, the regional council’s deputy mayor who’s responsible for economic development in the area. Among those hardest hit is a local manufacturer of truck body parts who relied on the flight to reach buyers in Sydney, he said.

Global mobility

Hervey Bay, more than three hours’ drive north from Queensland’s state capital Brisbane, is best known as a jumping-off point for whale-watching tours and trips to nearby Fraser Island.

The town’s Sydney flight is one of more than 14,000 connections that have been abandoned globally since the pandemic broke out, according to OAG.

Australia’s capital, Canberra, has been scrubbed from international maps too. The city has no more direct flights overseas after Singapore Airlines ceased services from Singapore in September.

“It will take a good four or five years for connectivity to return to the same level we saw at the end of 2019,” said Subhas Menon, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, which represents regional carriers including Singapore Airlines, China Airlines and Cathay Pacific. “Some of these routes may never be put back."

All this erodes aviation’s financial clout. But it’s the blow to airlines’ contribution to global mobility and social opportunity that’s harder to measure.

Before the coronavirus, the industry supported 65.5 million jobs -- more than half of them indirectly through tourism – and had a global economic impact of US$2.7 trillion, according to the 2019 Aviation Benefits Report, a study by industry groups including UN agency the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Fragile margins

To be sure, many airlines are adding routes at home to tap pent-up demand in what’s effectively their only functioning market. Commercial airline traffic in the U.S. was back to more than half of pre-virus levels at the end of last month, FlightAware data show; in China, it’s almost returned to regular levels.

And Singapore Airlines earlier this week restarted its non-stop service between Singapore and New York, the world’s longest flight, as the tiny island nation struggles to retain its relevance as a global aviation hub.

But far outnumbering these new connections are the 2,279 routes in Asia that aren’t operating any more at all. In November last year, there were more than 1,000 scheduled flights between Almaty and Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan, the data show. This month, there are none.

In the U.S., American Airlines CEO Doug Parker warned last month that parts of the country risk being cut off unless there’s more support from the government.

“There will absolutely be discontinuation of service to small communities, and there will be much less service to larger communities,” Parker said in an October 8 interview on CNBC. He said the airline has stopped flying to 13 U.S. cities and extended those cuts through November.

Routes with the most fragile profit margins will be the first to go, while airlines will try to keep the connections that feed passengers into larger travel hubs, said Dirk-Maarten Molenaar, Amsterdam-based head of Boston Consulting’s travel and tourism practice for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

“For the next couple of years, there will be a number of super-thin routes you can’t justify flying,” Molenaar said.

In Australia’s Hervey Bay, Everard is putting on a brave face after the town of 52,000’s forced isolation from Sydney.

“There are a lot of families who are missing that connectivity,” he said. “It’s a shame we haven’t got it, but we’re a pretty resilient mob.”

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here


09 May 2020

Total posts 553

Routes that is both profitable and sustainable are unlikely to be cut, hence those who are lost fails ether or both criteria.

From memory VA’s SYD-HVB schedule is not friendly to business, which is not unexpected for a leisure destination and experiences seasonal variation. There is no surprises that QF even during the capacity war, hardly made any effort in this direct route.

Canberra was always the excuse for SQ and QR to have additional routes to Australian destinations and it’s no surprise that these are first to be withdrawn, in the case of QR to be replaced by another Australian state capital destination 

no reason why some entities around Hervey Bay/Maryborough, like councils, whale watching businesses, hotels etc. couldn't charter a weekly or twice weekly a B737/A320/Fokker jet/E190 from Sydney. From March 2020, there will be 5 airlines with large commercial jets to choose from:-

Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Rex or Alliance.

Otherwise less than 30 mins drive to Maryborough airport, 90m mins to Bundaberg airport or around 120 mins to Sunshine Coast airport, all of which can handle above jets I think.


correction to above Bundaberg runway too short for most jets with a load of passengers.


correction to above, Bundaberg airport, might not be able to handle commercial jets, but could handle aircraft such as Dash 8s.

Toowoomba Wellcamp to Sydney is operated by a Qantas dash 8-400 & is only slightly shorter.


low frequency seasonal charter flights could fill the void, when thin RPT flights are canned.

Look at the previous thin Virgin routes of Newcastle to Auckland & Brisbane to Dunedin, which may not be revived, unless heavily subsidised by local councils etc.


some previously daily long haul flights to places like USA, might initially NOT be daily, after covid 19 restrictions removed, but rather 3 to 5 times a week, all depending on demand/yield. Am sure airlines will work in with each other & can't see govts objecting, although the reduced competition might lead to higher average fares.

Qlders will love(NOT) having to fly via SYD just to get to LAX, if they want to fly Qantas, adding up to 5 hours in each direction.

(1.5 hour flight BNE/SYD, min 2 hour connect, but most would not want a tight connection at SYD)


09 May 2020

Total posts 553

Not sure why you mentioned MBH (too small) or BDB (too far, unless theres cheap shuttle like BNE to Bryon Bay) in your list of suggested alternative airports for Fraser region... but maybe just playing with the idea I supposed. 

There’s a distinctly obvious lack of options in international routes/providers to major continents from BNE (compared to MEL and SYD) which probably reflects the volume of QLD travellers and the destination choices they make. No airlines would want to miss out on opportunities to make money, but conversely there needs to have been enough demand for it rather than hope it will grow, as short forays to East Asian cities by QF & VA soon found out, particularly when competing with Asian airlines with different cost base and service standards.

Other than the major airlines to major hubs, the selection of direct routes out of BNE is lacklustre and the commissioning of the new runway will not make much difference nor lowering the landing costs nor curfew-free. 

speaking of curfews, re SYD

No domestic airline wants to land after 2100 at SYD, unless they plan on leaving aircraft their overnight.

For international airlines, it's more like 2000, as if for any reason 60 or 90 mins late landing, might be hard pushed to take off before 2300 especially if a large twin aisle jet.


09 May 2020

Total posts 553

What is often not well known is that the SYD curfew does not cover propeller planes under 34,000 kg so technically the regional flights can continue overnight if there was ever a demand for it ( although for most regional destinations including Canberra , many places close after 8-9 pm anyway).

And of course they also allow some business jets and freight planes movement during the curfew.

It will be interesting if the residents at Badgery creek would demand the same curfew, considering that they had bought into the area zoned for decades for the second airport, hence its cheap price of land there.... except when it’s the federal government doing the shopping of course!

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