COVID-19 Airlines and Airliner Casualties, Groundings and Retirements
Air Canada and its subsidiary Rouge will be retiring many of their Boeing B-767-300s due to the airline industry’s downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Call it what you will… the “COVID-19 pandemic” has led most of the world’s airline companies to almost completely shut down air travel. Travelers have cancelled or stopped reserving airline seats in quantities never seen before. According to IATA (the International Air Transport Association), the average airliner in North America in April, 2020 was operating at a 15% load, down from 84.8% the year before. Some U.S. flights were operated empty, to comply with government restrictions for “essential service” or airport slot guarantees (some route pairs need to be flown regardless of load factors). City pairs and slots to high demand airports like DCA or LGA could be reassigned to another carrier if a guaranteed frequency or gate usage frequencies aren’t met. Not all airline companies who asked the Transportation Department for relief from the slot programs’ restrictions received approval to stop flying unprofitable flights, but most did.
Most airliner fleets were grounded and stored. Some airliners were kept in a 30 or 60 day readiness state, while others were placed into storage indefinitely. Many older or non-efficient jets have been officially retired from use all together, or will be retired by next year. Others have had their retirement dates accelerated. Some passenger jets were converted into freighters… normally passenger flights carry mail and some freight, and the loss of belly space really put a crunch on shipping “immediately needed” supplies. Thus, some larger jets lost their seats and gained floor space that could carry more volume than weight, keeping those aircraft in the air paying for themselves.
In many ways, the airline industry will never be the same. Although a full list of grounded aircraft and severely reduced flying schedules cannot be compiled here because there are almost weekly operational amendments by companies that are trying to match forecasts to actual numbers… here’s a short list of some iconic aircraft types and operators who chose to end their partnerships.
American Airlines will retire their Boeing B-767-300s and Airbus A-330-300s sooner than expected.
American Airlines has decided to retire their Embraer ERJ-190s, formerly operated by US Airways. The airline will retire a group of older B-737s that require heavy maintenance and new cabin fittings too. Additionally, the contract with PSA’s Bombardier CRJ-200s has been ended, and those jets will not fly with American Airlines livery again either.
American Airlines will retire their Boeing B-757s as new Airbus A-321s come on line through 2021.
Air Canada will retire many Boeing B-767-300 series jetliners due to the COVID-19 traffic downturn.
Air Canada has already ceased flying their Embraer ERJ-190s due to the travel decline.
Air Canada and Rouge will park almost all of their Airbus A-319s as well, except for three executive shuttle/charter-configured versions according to industry reports.
Delta accelerated and completed their MD-88 retirements due to falling traffic.
Delta’s MD-90 jets will soon join the MD-88s into retirement.
Delta Airlines operates 18 Boeing B-777-200s in two versions. The small number of this fleet made it economically sound to retire these jets too.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will retire all of their B-747 models by the summer’s end… three Combi versions of the B-747-400 are being used as pure freighters in the interim.
Virgin Atlantic will accelerate the retirement of their Boeing B-747-400 jets.
Slated to already be retired, the Airbus A-340-600 soldiered on for a few more months as issues with their replacement B-787s’ engines. They are all retired now, as of June, 2020.
Air Transat’s last A-310 has been retired, but not before making a last repatriation flight for stranded passengers due to COVID-19’s impact of canceled flights.
Lufthansa’s Airbus A-340-600s had their retirements moved forward, as have older Boeing B-747-400s in their fleet due to the dramatic drop in air travel.
QANTAS B-747-400s are now stored and expect to be retired by 2021, earlier than planned.
The super-jumbo Airbus A-380 worldwide fleet has been all but parked during this plunge in air travel.
Worldwide, all but five of several hundred Airbus A-380 jetliners have been grounded and stored. China Southern Airlines was operating five of the jets regularly at the time of this article’s writing (mid-June 2020). QANTAS has stated that they’ll operate the type for another decade, and Emirates has a huge investment in their fleet… but Air France retired their fleet of 10 aircraft on May 20th. Lufthansa will park their 12 jets, not saying if they’ll fly again for the airline, or not. One report states it will be 2022 at the earliest if any A-380 operations return with the German carrier.
Unfortunately, not only airliners, but entire airlines have ceased operations and have gone out of business. On May 11, 2020, Miami Air International, a charter airline that regularly flew military troop flights as well shut down operations. While there are dozens of air carriers worldwide that have stopped flying, most expect to begin operations again as soon as traffic levels begin to rise. Some just won’t be returning though, some of the unfortunate companies that have folded were in dire straits before the COVID-19 crisis came along, others saw the rapid COVID-19-caused slide in income occur too quickly to overcome financial pressures. Here are just some of the carriers, with their dates of ceased operation or filed for protection from creditors:
Air Italy (Not to be confused with Alitalia) February 11, 2020
Flybe (A U.K. regional air carrier) March 5, 2020
Trans States Airlines (United Airlines partner) April 1, 2020
Compass Airlines (An American Airlines partner) April 7, 2020
Virgin Australia went into voluntary receivership on April 20, 2020.
South African Airways (Already in dire financial straits before traffic dropped considerably) April 29th
Avianca Holdings (Columbia and other South American subsidies too) May 11, 2020
LATAM (Chile and subsidiaries) May 26, 2020
Aeromexico filed for Chapter 11 on June 30, 2020.