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You’re Grounded: The COVID-19 Effect on Global Flight Capacity



Global Flight Capacity 6 Apr Update

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You’re Grounded: The COVID-19 Effect on Flight Capacity

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into a tailspin.

As the number of new cases continues to surge in parts of the world, numbers are beginning to decline in others as public health officials and governments tirelessly work to slow the contagion and reach of the virus.

The potent combination of trip cancellations and country-specific restrictions on international flights has had a staggering impact on the $880 billion global airline industry. Today’s visualization highlights data from the OAG Aviation Worldwide, which tracks how global flight capacity differs from last year’s numbers.

Note: this post has been updated on April 7, 2020 to reflect the latest data.

Asia Faced the First Hard Landing

Nearly all countries have some type of travel advisory in place, with many encouraging people to avoid non-essential travel even before COVID-19 was officially considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The earliest impacts of these were felt in February, as flight capacity in and out of China dropped sharply around Lunar New Year. Also, the country’s sharpest year-over-year drop was recorded on February 17, 2020, with a 71% drop in flights compared to the same date in 2019. However, there’s some good news: life in China is slowly returning back to normal, as Wuhan eases its lockdown after almost two and a half months.

Flight capacity for Hong Kong, which was already seeing its traveler numbers declining due to months-long protests, continues its slump. As of April 6, 2020, scheduled flights were down by an immense 92.3% compared to 2019—the most of any Asian jurisdiction represented in the data.

India showed one of the most drastic declines, from 1.8% down to -68% on March 30, 2020. This resulted from a 21-day lockdown order on March 24, 2020—with only four hours of notice for its 1.3 billion citizens.

Monitoring the Situation Elsewhere

Meanwhile in Europe, Italy saw a 22% drop in flights coinciding with the announcement of a national lockdown March 9, 2020. Now that the situation has intensified, flights to and from Italy have plummeted 89% from their normal rates.

Germany and Spain are seeing the highest declines in scheduled flights worldwide, with approximately 92.6% less capacity as of April 6, 2020. Flight capacity in the region has plummeted thanks to widespread restrictions.

On March 11, 2020, the U.S. enforced a 30-day ban on travelers from the Schengen Area, a free-travel zone consisting of 26 countries in Europe, and has since extended to include the UK and Ireland. As a result, U.S. flight capacity is beginning its descent, dropping 45.2% by April 6, 2020 as the ban may be extended, and to even more countries.

Meanwhile, as of March 17, the U.S.-Canada border is closed for all non-essential travel. This follows a previous announcement from the Canadian government that it would be curbing entry to only Canadian citizens, family members, permanent residents, diplomats, and Americans.

Broadly speaking, countries around the world are taking similar actions to limit the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve”:

Measure TakenExample Countries*
Suspending flights from specific countries🇺🇸United States, 🇹🇷Turkey
Returning citizens must enter through specific airports🇨🇦Canada, 🇺🇸United States
Mandatory screening🇮🇹Italy, 🇧🇴Bolivia
14 day self-quarantine 🇮🇱Israel, 🇬🇷Greece
Complete closure of borders🇬🇹Guatemala, 🇵🇪Peru

*As of March 17, 2020

More Turbulent Times Ahead?

As both COVID-19 and the global response to it continues to evolve, here are the largest flight capacity reductions across different regions in the past few weeks, compared to a baseline from Jan 20, 2020:

Region20 Jan 2020 Flights23 Mar 2020 Flights30 Mar 2020 Flights06 Apr 2020 Flights% Change (6 Apr vs 30 Mar)
Western Europe18,606,4247,595,2643,840,5362,476,034-35.5%
North America22,644,12122,236,62517,221,75111,658,243-32.3%
Eastern/Central Europe3,701,2411,176,1391,930,5461,393,600-27.8%
Central America2,444,3832,040,6771,548,4581,135,163-26.7%
Upper South America1,737,7131,011,930673,016513,056-23.8%
Southeast Asia10,866,6236,177,0934,810,9453,856,977-19.8%
South Asia5,160,9584,245,6351,538,9181,371,156-10.9%
Middle East4,930,0302,580,4661,760,8091,619,546-8.0%
Northeast Asia25,278,59413,782,87912,465,26711,730,667-5.9%

Source: OAG

Naturally, the economic impact on airlines has been immense. Many airlines worldwide face the threat of bankruptcy in coming months, if these declining trends continue. To hedge against these domino effects of the outbreak, U.S. airlines are requesting upwards of $60 billion in bailouts and direct assistance from the government.

COVID-19 is throwing everything up in the air—including the fate of airline companies. It’s not yet clear when these stringent travel restrictions may be lifted, but one can only hope that these airlines do not have to continue to weather the storm much longer.

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Ranked: The World’s 50 Top Countries by GDP, by Sector Breakdown

This graphic shows GDP by country, broken down into three main sectors: services, industry, and agriculture.



Visualized: The Three Pillars of GDP, by Country

Over the last several decades, the service sector has fueled the economic activity of the world’s largest countries. Driving this trend has been changes in consumption, the easing of trade barriers, and rapid advancements in tech.

We can see this in the gross domestic product (GDP) breakdown of each country, which gets divided into three broad sectors: services, industry, and agriculture.

The above graphic from Pranav Gavali shows GDP by country, and how each sector contributes to an economy’s output, with data from the World Bank.

Drivers of GDP, by Country

As the most important and fastest growing component of GDP, services make up almost 60% of GDP in the world’s 50 largest countries. Following this is the industrial sector which includes the production of raw goods.

Below, we show how each sector contributes to GDP by country as of 2021:

(% GDP)
(% GDP)
(% GDP)
(% GDP)
🇺🇸 U.S.77.617.91.03.6$22.9
🇨🇳 China53.539.37.20.0$16.9
🇯🇵 Japan69.928.81.00.4$5.1
🇩🇪 Germany62.926.70.99.5$4.2
🇬🇧 UK71.617.30.710.4$3.1
🇫🇷 France70.316.71.611.4$2.9
🇮🇳 India47.926.117.38.7$2.9
🇮🇹 Italy65.022.71.910.4$2.1
🇨🇦 Canada*67.724.11.76.6$2.0
🇰🇷 South Korea57.$1.8
🇧🇷 Brazil57.820.27.514.6$1.6
🇦🇺 Australia65.725.52.36.5$1.6
🇷🇺 Russia54.131.83.910.3$1.6
🇪🇸 Spain67.420.42.69.6$1.4
🇲🇽 Mexico59.$1.3
🇮🇩 Indonesia42.839.813.34.1$1.2
🇮🇷 Iran47.338.012.42.3$1.1
🇳🇱 Netherlands69.417.91.511.2$1.0
🇨🇭 Switzerland71.924.60.62.8$0.8
🇹🇷 Turkiye52.831.15.510.6$0.8
🇹🇼 Taiwan60.638.01.50.0$0.8
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia46.544.72.76.1$0.8
🇵🇱 Poland56.927.92.213.0$0.7
🇧🇪 Belgium68.819.60.710.9$0.6
🇸🇪 Sweden65.022.51.311.3$0.6
🇮🇱 Israel72.417.21.39.1$0.5
🇦🇷 Argentina52.523.67.116.8$0.5
🇦🇹 Austria62.425.81.210.5$0.5
🇳🇬 Nigeria43.831.423.41.4$0.5
🇹🇭 Thailand56.335.08.70.0$0.5
🇮🇪 Ireland55.437.81.05.8$0.5
🇭🇰 Hong Kong89.$0.4
🇩🇰 Denmark66.719.30.913.1$0.4
🇸🇬 Singapore70.324.40.05.3$0.4
🇿🇦 South Africa63.024.52.510.0$0.4
🇵🇭 Philippines61.028.910.10.0$0.4
🇪🇬 Egypt52.531.211.44.9$0.4
🇧🇩 Bangladesh51.333.311.63.7$0.4
🇳🇴 Norway51.836.31.710.2$0.4
🇻🇳 Vietnam41.237.512.68.8$0.4
🇲🇾 Malaysia51.637.89.61.1$0.4
🇦🇪 U.A.E.51.647.50.90.0$0.4
🇵🇰 Pakistan52.118.822.76.4$0.3
🇵🇹 Portugal64.719.62.213.5$0.3
🇫🇮 Finland60.324.12.313.4$0.3
🇨🇴 Colombia58.$0.3
🇷🇴 Romania59.$0.3
🇨🇿 Czechia58.830.31.89.1$0.3
🇨🇱 Chile54.431.33.610.6$0.3
🇳🇿 New

Industrial sector includes construction. Agriculture sector includes forestry and fishing. *Data as of 2019.

In the U.S., services make up nearly 78% of GDP. Apart from Hong Kong, it comprises the highest share of GDP across the world’s largest economies. Roughly 80% of American jobs in the private sector are in services, spanning from healthcare and entertainment to finance and logistics.

Like America, a growing share of China’s GDP is from services, contributing to almost 54% of total economic output, up from 44% in 2010. This can be attributed to rising incomes and higher productivity in the sector as the economy has grown and matured, among other factors.

In a departure from the top 10 biggest countries globally, agriculture continues to drive a large portion of India’s GDP. India is the world’s second largest producer of wheat and rice, with agriculture accounting for 44% of the country’s employment.

While the services sector has grown in India, it makes up a greater share in other emerging economies such as Brazil (58%), Mexico (59%), and the Philippines (61%).

Growth Dynamics

Services-led growth has risen faster than manufacturing across many developing nations, underpinned by productivity growth.

This structural shift is seen across economies. In many countries in Africa, for instance, jobs have increasingly moved from agriculture to services and trade, where it now accounts for 42% of jobs.

These growth patterns are supported by rising incomes in developing economies, while innovation in tech is lowering barriers to enabling service growth. As the industrial sector makes up a lower share of trade and economic activity, the service sector is projected to make up 77% of global GDP by 2035.

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