As the COVID-19 pandemic led to international travel bans, border closures, flight cuts and lockdowns in March, not only did it change what happens on the ground, it completely transformed our skies too.
In its latest monthly report, Flightradar24 (the website that tracks air traffic in real time) said March witnessed a ''historic drop in air traffic as COVID-19 restrictions expanded and demand for air travel evaporated.'' Statistics show that flight traffic was down 27.7% in total for the month of March, compared to the same time in 2019. In other words, the website tracked 5002 flights in March 2020, compared to 13,912 in March 2019. But this figure doesn't capture the full picture, according to the tracking service, as the steep decline only kicked in towards the end of the month.
In February, global commercial air traffic dropped just 4.3% for the month compared to the previous year. The most significant decline was in China, as governments warned against all but essential travel to affected regions. But by the end of the month air traffic began to decrease in Europe, particularly in Italy as it became the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic and other nations began to restrict flights to the country. In early March, the numbers started to rise ever so slightly as travellers scrambled to get home amid border closures and travel bans.
But when the bans became widespread at the end of the month, figures plummeted. Flightradar24 reports that flight traffic dropped down 3.9% below 2019 levels in the first week in March but in the final week, it declined 62.9% below the same period in 2019. Data visualisations from the tracking service highlight the decline with the concentration of yellow graphic satellite-tracked aircraft thinning out as the month continues.
Thousands of airlines are still transporting commercial passengers, repatriating nationals and undertaking cargo-only missions for medical supplies. But as they seek to work their way through the COVID-19 travel bans, the decline is set to continue.