News out today shows hundreds of US flights canceled.  The talk is about Omicron – well of course. But take a look at how well the US airlines have actually recovered from the 2020 Covid debacle.

The first chart shows the history of US passenger traffic.  The software offers a forecast of where we should be, and hopefully, where we might be again soon. Look at the gap between the forecast and actual. Yikes. The 2020 debacle is awful to look at – contemplate the damage that caused – global deaths and layoffs, etc. Truly horrifying.

In the second chart, we show the load factor history and forecast. The impressive V shows that even though traffic has not come back (chart 1) US airlines cut back on fleets and crews.  The people and equipment that remained deployed were worked hard.  For airline employees, this has been especially tough.

So with slimmed-down Ops, what did you think would happen with another wave, i.e. Omicron?  The wheels would come off!  The airline industry in the US, and elsewhere, are in survival mode.  They do not have the resource depth they once did.  Any shock throws networks off.  There aren’t enough people to keep all the pieces together and functioning.  This is amazing if you consider how automated air travel has become – we may have discovered the limits of automation. (Airline Unions, give a cheer)  Airline ops are subject to exogenous factors that play havoc in ways that don’t apply to most other industries. 

This suggests that airlines would build resilience into their ops.  If there’s one industry that knows how crucial it is to have staffing depth it would be airlines.  But here we are – Covid brought the industry to its knees.  Airlines universally cut staffing too deep. Especially in the US where they got PPP.  Getting people back to do ops work is not nearly as quick as making layoffs. It may take a lot more time to get the people where they want to be this holiday.

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Addison Schonland
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Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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