More Aircraft Return to Flying as European Summer Arrives

 - June 22, 2021, 8:19 AM
Eurocontrol data shows the number of inactive aircraft declining as the summer approached. (Image: Eurocontrol)

The number of inactive airplanes in Europe has fallen to its lowest point since the start of the pandemic, a sign of what Eurocontrol calls a gentle recovery in flights as the summer season gets underway. According to the agency’s latest data snapshot released on Tuesday, the statistics show that operators have returned to service more than 800 airplanes from the start of May to June 1, resulting in a total of 3,384 parked airliners—still more than double the number of inactive machines on the same date in 2019 but less than half the peak recorded in the spring of 2020.

Over the course of a typical week in 2019 about 2,000 aircraft would remain parked at Europe’s airports. Natural declines due to seasonality saw the number of inactive aircraft drop to about 1,500 in July 2019. Eurocontrol noted that Inactive aircraft could include business aviation and private aircraft that do not necessarily fly every week, aircraft under maintenance or repair, or even recently retired airplanes.

By the end of 2019, traffic growth already began to weaken, resulting in a slight increase in the number of inactive aircraft compared with the previous winter. In April 2020, when Europe went into lockdown, the industry saw the most dramatic change: some 5,000 aircraft that flew regularly each week joined those parked at airports. At the peak, nearly 7,200 idle aircraft occupied aprons, taxiways, and even runways—where necessary—for days, weeks, and months depending on the case and the airline strategy. Some airlines even accelerated plans to retire part of their fleets, including Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s. Eurocontrol notes that airplanes taken to desert storage outside of Europe drop out of the statistics.  

The partial recovery of traffic in summer 2020 allowed some of those inactive aircraft to fly again and the total number of idle airplanes decreased to a little more than 3,500. But then a second wave of Covid during the winter returned many to the ground, and although the Christmas season improved the situation, new travel restrictions coming with a third Covid wave early this year increased the number of inactive airframes to almost 5,000.

“As summer 2021 gets underway, the gentle recovery in flights is seeing more aircraft brought back into service: more than 800 since the start of May, leaving our airports with the fewest inactive aircraft since the pandemic began,” said Eurocontrol, which called the development “a good sign for the summer ahead.”