Page 4 - World ATM Directory & ANSP Report 2022
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The headline figures show that demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) fell 58.4% compared with pre-pandemic levels. However, this was an improvement on 2020 numbers. Air cargo, meanwhile, grew 6.9% compared with full-year 2019 and almost 20% compared with 2020.
But these figures hide enormous discrepancies between regions and also disguise the turbulent nature of monthly statistics as travel restrictions and quarantines came and went before the Omicron variant reared its head toward the end of the year.
For air navigation service providers (ANSP), the unpredictability of air traffic volumes has been extremely challenging. ANSPs do not enjoy the same degree of flexibility as aviation partners. All airspace must remain open, and all services must remain available, even with significantly lower traffic volumes.
Data from Aireon’s space-based ADS-B network shows the incredible swings in activity throughout 2021. It was a slow start to the year. There were 1.8 million flights operated globally in February 2021, a decline of 38% from the 2.89 million that flew in February 2020, when the virus gained a name and worldwide recognition. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, a disproportionate impact on long haul flights is obvious as flight hours continue to lag overall flight numbers.
By April, there were signs of a muted recovery as the northern hemisphere moved into spring with hopes of a return to normality on the horizon. There were 2.49 million flights operated globally, which represents 80.5% of the 3.1 million flights operated in April 2019 and a 147% increase on the 1.01 million flights in April 2020 – when the virus was globally rampant and air traffic was all but grounded.
For ANSPs, the increase in activity was a sure sign to ramp up operations. There were on average 83,000 daily flights in April 2021 compared with 77,700 flights daily in March and 64,300 flights daily in February. This was the highest level since the start of the coronavirus crisis and the steady rise in traffic promised a positive summer season for northern hemisphere operators.
Indeed, June and July saw further progress on the road to recovery although various hotspots made it obvious that the pandemic was not over. There were 2.96 million flights operated globally in July 2021, approximately 84.5% of July 2019 levels. Daily average traffic increased roughly 6% month over month, from 90,000 flights and 182,800 flight hours in June 2021 to 95,500 flights and 193,500 flight hours in July 2021. On 23 July, there was a post-pandemic record of 211,000 flight hours.
Although airlines still opted to park larger commercial aircraft, the number of unique aircraft operating daily in summer 2021 was 18% above January 2020 levels, prior to the catastrophic drop-off in traffic.
By October 2021, ANSPs were dealing 3.07 million flights globally, 87.1% of the 3.52 million flights operated in October 2019. The average 98,900 flights and 195,600 flight hours daily in October was 3% up on July, but lower than was usual pre-pandemic and likely a sign of fears over a Autumn resurgence of the virus and potential new variants. Daily flight hours in October 2021 ranged between 205,400 and 189,000 hours per day. For ANSPs, the challenge was preparing for another crisis-hit winter after months of full service.
The fears of a new variant materialised in November and by December global flights were down to 2.93 million, equivalent to 6.04 million flight hours. The Omicron infection not only led to the knee-jerk imposition of travel restrictions but also to severe staff shortages as the highly transmissible strain took hold around the world.
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Ja n
Feb Mar
Apr May
Jul Aug Sep
Flight Hours (2021)
Oct Nov Dec
Flight Hours, Rolling Average
Flight Hours (2020)
       Flight Movements, Rolling Average
120 100 80 60 40 20
Ja n
Feb Mar
Apr May
Jul Aug Sep Oct
Movements (2021)
Nov Dec
Movements (2020)

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