The COVID-19 pandemic led to 41 per cent fewer commercial flights globally in 2020 than 2019, according to FlightRadar24.
The data – the most authoritative released yet – also revealed total flights including freight were down 27 per cent.
It comes amid fresh optimism that increasing vaccine rollout could bring an end to the pandemic in the next few months. On Wednesday, the UK revealed it had already vaccinated more than one million vulnerable people.
“Commercial flights were down 41.7 per cent overall in 2020, bottoming out in mid-April and making a moderate recovery through mid-August before the pace slowed,” said FlightRadar24 on its blog.
“Helped by holiday travel at the end of the year, commercial traffic in December was only down 36.5 per cent from 2019. Commercial traffic grew 9.2 per cent in December over November (compared to 3.4 per cent growth in the same period in 2019).
“The total number of flights tracked by Flightradar24 decreased by 27 per cent in 2020, coming in at just shy of 50 million flights for the year. December flights were down 19 per cent below 2019 levels. The total number of flights tracked increased by 2.3% from November to December.”
The encouraging late rebound in December 2020 comes despite International Air Transport Association chief executive Alexandre de Juniac claiming passenger numbers had “hit a wall” in November.
“A resurgence in COVID-19 outbreaks – particularly in Europe and the US – combined with governments’ reliance on the blunt instrument of quarantine in the absence of globally aligned testing regimes, has halted momentum toward re-opening borders to travel,” said de Juniac.
The industry body, which represents nearly 300 airlines around the globe, added that while cargo is having trouble, it’s a “world apart from the extreme difficulties” in commercial air travel.
“Favorable indicators for the peak year-end season will support the continued recovery in [cargo] demand,” he said. “Already North American and African carriers are reporting demand gains on 2019. The challenge continues to be on capacity. As carriers adjust schedules to reflect falling passenger demand amid the resurgence of COVID-19, valuable belly capacity will be lost when it is needed the most.”
The UK, the first country to begin a vaccination program, said on Wednesday that 1.3 million vulnerable people have been given the jab. The country has switched strategy to delay giving the second dose in order to give more people just one shot.
Israel has already vaccinated nearly 16 per cent of its entire population.