Coronavirus: Europe aviation traffic shrivels by two-thirds

Two airports, Paris Orly and London City, scheduled commercial flight suspensions Wednesday as Europe's aviation overseer Eurocontrol recorded a two-thirds slump in traffic through its 41-nation airspace.

Paris airport management cited a "major and brutal" collapse in flight numbers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, scheduled a shutdown from March 31.

And, London City — an inner-city flight hub along the Thames — insisted it had to do "the responsible thing" to protect its staff and passengers from the virus.

Eurocontrol, since 2004 partner in the EU's Single Sky project and extending as far as Morocco and Israel, published data Wednesday showing a 65% slump in weekly traffic compared to the same period last year.

And, compared to March 25 last year, Eurocontrol on Wednesday displayed an even more dramatic 77% statistical nose-dive.

On average, Eurocontrol last November tracked some 27,000 flights per day across Europe; in January before the pandemic gripped Europe some 25,000 per day.

Pooling data from Wednesday, its Aviation Intelligence Unit counted a mere 8,619 "planned flights."

Worse than in 2010

The trend Wednesday appeared worse than Europe's aviation shutdown in 2010 — because of an Icelandic volcanic eruption — when over an 8-day period 48% of total air traffic was cancelled, affecting some 10 million passengers.

Read more: Coronavirus: Germany shuts down borders, halts public life

Eurocontrol too has faced viral infection: On March 4 it said a German employee at its Upper Area Control Center (MUAC), located in Maastricht in the Netherlands, had tested positive and was staying at home.

Globally, the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association (IATA) pleaded with governments for bailouts, projecting $252 billion (€233 billion) in lost revenues, saying contagion fears had left airlines "desperately" in need of cash.

Millions of jobs at stake

"We need a full-speed massive rescue package now,” said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac, referring to 2.7 million aviation sector jobs at stake.

Most at risk were European airlines, added IATA chief economist, Brian Pierce.

IATA's statistical projections on Wednesday were for a 40% fall in bookings in April, 44% dropn in revenues, and 1.1 million flight cancellations through June 30.

Climate rescue advocates, initially silent as the virus Sars-Cov2 spread, causing the lung-infliction COVID-19, warned that UN-conference led efforts to slash greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, could lose momentum.

"Public money should support the technologies of the future and not reinforce the mistakes of the past," said Andrew Murphy of Transport & Environment (T&E), which describes itself as Europe's "leading clean transport group."

Last week, T&E urged governments to "require airlines to start using low-carbon fuels" such as synthetic kerosene and waste-based biofuels and in the future pay tax on aviation propellants and international ticket sales.

ipj/ng (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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