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Global aviation's time travel: back to 1996 fleet & 1986 flight levels

Premium Analysis

COVID-19 has taken aviation back in time. According to the CAPA Fleet Database, the global number of active aircraft at 18-May-2020 is just 13,955, versus more than 31,000 at the start of the year. This takes the fleet back to its 1996 size – almost two and a half decades ago.

That was the year when party favourite "Macarena" by Los del Rio was the biggest selling single in the US, "Killing Me Softly" by the Fugees was the top seller in the UK, and "Braveheart" won the Best Picture Oscar.

It certainly feels as though the current crisis is killing aviation, which will need a brave heart to find reasons once more to party.

Even mistier realms of history need to be trawled to find the comparable year for current flight numbers. The annualised equivalent of May-2020's frequency decline of 66.5% year-on-year (source: OAG) takes the industry back to 1986 levels.

Growth is expected to return, but according to IATA, RPKs will grow by only 20% from 2019 to 2025. This would be the lowest ever six-year growth period in the history of global aviation.

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