Winter worries and the question of Summer survival

Analyst Chris Butler looks at the continued decline in the winter schedule and the challenges and uncertainty facing Summer 2021

The latest wave of coronavirus restrictions has hit hard this Winter, dealing another blow to the aviation industry. UK schedules have become more volatile than ever, with airlines forced to change and cancel planned operations causing flight volumes for Winter 2020 (W20) to fall sharply.

Collapse in W20 traffic

National lockdowns and travel restrictions have affected UK aviation throughout the pandemic, with the first wave contributing to a 77% decline in traffic overall for Summer 2020 (S20) versus S19 (-1.2 million movements). W20 saw similar decline until the beginning of December brought initial signs of recovery, with 32% of W19 volume operating in the week beginning 16th December. Any growth was halted however by increases in UK infection rates and the subsequent tightening of lockdown and travel restrictions. W20 volume has declined to -74% versus W19 as a result, with further cancellations expected.

Scheduled volume for the festive period fell by 21% immediately after the announcement of additional UK restrictions on 21st Dec, with over 27,000 slots cancelled. The introduction of a third national lockdown prompted further cancellations; the first two weeks of 2021 saw 80,000 slots cancelled and a subsequent 27% decline in schedule volume for January – March, with airlines forced to abandon any plans of growth for the new year.

Figure 1 – Increase in cancellations per week following tightened restrictions resulting in reduced volume for January.

Schedule volume is unlikely to see substantial growth before the end of W20. ACL’s latest forecast indicates that the overall W20 volume could fall beyond -80% versus W19 based on the current rate of cancellations, with further reductions expected for February and March.

The collapse in W20 traffic versus last year has been seen across Level 3 airports including LGW (-87%) and LCY (-92%), as well as at regional airports such as CWL (-90%), SOU (-85%) and EXT (-85%). Despite periods of recovery in late summer and over the festive period, scheduled movements for both domestic and international routes saw a 77% decline in 2020 versus 2019, indicating the widespread nature of the decline in traffic.

Figure 2 – Decline in both Domestic and International weekly movements versus previous year.

Outlook for Summer 2021 remains uncertain and volatile

Looking ahead to S21, the ongoing impact of travel restrictions across the world means airlines and airports face extreme uncertainty. The aviation industry in the UK and beyond faces several crucial questions when planning for S21.

Varying country-specific travel restrictions, vaccination programmes and testing procedures will mean that the pace at which different markets recover is likely to differ greatly. Reports indicate that over 7.1 million people have already received their first dose of the vaccination in the UK; the travel industry will hope that this could stimulate demand for certain markets this summer, however the extent of the impact of the UK’s vaccination programme on travel demand for S21 remains unknown.

ACL’s dynamic schedule data source covering 26 UK & ROI airports will capture the developments seen over the coming months. This provides a valuable source of information for those looking ahead and attempting to plan for an uncertain summer.

By Chris Butler

This article has been amended since original publication.

If you would like to know more about how your business could benefit from dynamic schedule data or ACL analysis, please contact

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