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HAS COVID-19 BEEN DETRIMENTAL TO THE WIDEBODY FLEET ?

Author: Darren Biddlecombe, Aviation Manager

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on travel, with flying being perhaps the most limited form for the past two years. Despite global travel slowly resuming and getting back to some form of normality, the impact of Covid-19 on the Aviation industry and specific types of aircraft is a slow recovery process.

In this article, using VesselsValue data, we assess the impact of Covid-19 on the performance of the Widebody fleet. We’ll address values, production rates, ESG factors and the overall demise of the A380.

Utilisation: from bums on seats to masks on seats

Using our Utilisation Sentiment Data, Figure 1 highlights how Widebody utilisation has been slowly recovering since the beginning of 2021. However, aircraft utilisation of a PAX Widebody has not been so apparent with many of the Widebody fleet now assisting in the transportation and logistics of PPE and Covid-19 related cargo.

This provides some income for airlines and aircraft while passengers and international travel have been so significantly restricted, but it is not enough to sustain the pre Covid-19 utilisation levels.

Figure 1: VV Utilisation Sentiment powered by ADS-B.

Most of the world has now moved to partially restrictive travel with only a few countries still enforcing a fully restrictive approach of no commercial air travel.

Despite the normal seasonal fluctuation, the load factors hit a low of 35% in April 2020. More recently these recovered to the low 70’s, albeit with more sudden and erratic movements, unlike the normal more gradual seasonal rise and fall. It will likely be an elongated period until the pre Covid-19 levels of typically around 90% are seen again.

Environment, Sustainability and Governance

ESG and CO2 emissions are currently at the forefront of industry conversations at events and panels and significant investments into hydrogen and electric powered flight are underway. It is likely that the entire ESG aspect of Aviation will become increasingly crucial in future fleet planning and green financing. This trend has likely had a direct impact on the demise of the A380, which we discuss in more detail below.

Demise of the A380

Production of the A380, an already suffering airframe, has now ceased as the airframer has received no further orders, despite attempts to introduce the A380 plus. With 4 engines, circa 550 PAX and limited routes, this airframes size is no longer advantageous.

In a market that is struggling to fill a single deck Widebody, the airframe will likely diminish further still.

British Airways (BA) and others, are rumoured to be bringing some of their A380s back into service but is this could be due to attempts to keep the airframe alive until a time when spares carry more value than the airframe itself. It could also potentially be due to more regular emptier flights being preferable over fewer, fuller journeys.

Production Rates

Widebody production rates for the year to date are below 100 and favoured heavily towards Airbus and its A350. Rates are intentionally being kept low whilst the recovery from Covid-19 is still underway. Delayed deliveries continue whilst older aircraft are either taking early retirement or moving to conversion. Load factors in the cargo space remain at all time highs due to e-commerce enhancing an already buoyant market.

Conversion Programmes

Aircraft as young as 8 years old are coming out of storage and moving towards conversion. This reinforces reports of the success of cargo operations and demonstrates an increased demand for P2F. The youngest aircraft type entering conversion is the 767 at less than 15 years of age, with the majority of all aircraft earmarked for conversion is either a 757 or 767. This is partially due to Boeing conversions having more success and/or capacity for conversion.

Values

When comparing Widebody values of a select few aircraft types, as Figure 2 shows, a direct correlation between their trajectories is evident.

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