by Mark Neely – VP of Sales and Marketing for The Americas
We’re slowly digging our way out of the pandemic hole. Passenger numbers are gradually rising every month. Airlines are reinstating flights. Things seem to be going in the right direction. It’s going to take a while before we see 2019 traffic volumes and frequencies return. Exactly when is anyone’s guess. But there are signs of how we’ll get there.
One sign is aircraft size.
Airlines that have small-capacity aircraft deployed them first during the worst of the traffic collapse in 2020. Carriers in Europe, China, and North America used those airplanes to keep operating. In April last year, over 50% of all 70 to 150-seat jets in the US airline fleet were pressed into service compared to only 38% of all narrow-bodies.
Those numbers don’t surprise me. With weak demand, big airplanes aren’t economical, especially when you need multiple daily frequencies to flow connecting traffic across a network. Pre-pandemic, half of the domestic markets in the US were served by aircraft with fewer than 90 seats.
It’s an entirely different landscape in Latin America where half of the markets have less than one daily frequency. Networks simply aren’t as well developed. This may be the time for these airlines to address some of the structural issues that are preventing greater connectivity, including downgauging their aircraft.
These points were discussed in our Get Connected webinar this month. We highlighted the impact several trends will have on airlines on both continents, and how passengers and cargo will flow in a post-pandemic world.
The grounding of commercial fleets last year showed the vulnerability of international supply chains. Without the usual belly capacity on scheduled passenger flights, shippers scrambled to find space for their cargo. The situation is pushing countries in The Americas to review whether it’s better to produce goods locally or with new suppliers in neighboring countries rather than source imports from, say, China. That will impact how commerce flows, and aircraft size, too.
And then there’s the Zoom factor.
Depending on who you talk to, digital communication platforms will replace some portion of business travel. This trend is not only reducing business travel demand but as employees don’t need to live near their corporate offices, it is also accelerating urban decentralization. This will redistribute business traffic demand.
One big trend, however, has some positive benefits.
We’re at an inflection point with the move to green technology. This is evident with the growing popularity of electric automobiles. Likewise, the traveling public and regulatory authorities will expect manufacturers to introduce new airplanes with fewer emissions, less noise, and lower fuel consumption. Electric propulsion is coming too.
It didn’t take long for airlines to park their oldest airplanes and start turning green. In the US, American, Delta, and United have expressed their commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. It’s great to see Azul and GOL researching biofuels, a technology we’ve been co-developing for more than a decade.
Embraer has always factored the future in its aircraft designs, which is why the E2s meet the most stringent future ICAO limits right now.
I believe we’re on the road to recovery. And those who navigate it with smaller, greener airplanes will get there faster.