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  • Writer's pictureDarren Biddlecombe

Has Covid-19 been detrimental to the Widebody fleet?

Updated: May 15, 2023

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on travel, with flying being perhaps the most limited form for the past 2 years. Despite global travel slowly resuming and getting back to some form of normality, the impact of Covid-19 on the Aviation industry and specific types of aircraft is a slow recovery process.


In this article, using VesselsValue data, we assess the impact of Covid-19 on the performance of the Widebody fleet. We’ll address values, production rates, ESG factors and the overall demise of the A380.


Utilisation: from bums on seats to masks on seats


Using our Utilisation Sentiment Data, Figure 1 highlights how Widebody utilisation has been slowly recovering since the beginning of 2021. However, aircraft utilisation of a PAX Widebody has not been so apparent with many of the Widebody fleet now assisting in the transportation and logistics of PPE and Covid-19 related cargo.


This provides some income for airlines and aircraft while passengers and international travel have been so significantly restricted, but it is not enough to sustain the pre Covid-19 utilisation levels.

Figure 1: VV Utilisation Sentiment powered by ADS-B.

Most of the world has now moved to partially restrictive travel with only a few countries still enforcing a fully restrictive approach of no commercial air travel.


Despite the normal seasonal fluctuation, the load factors hit a low of 35% in April 2020. More recently these recovered to the low 70’s, albeit with more sudden and erratic movements, unlike the normal more gradual seasonal rise and fall. It will likely be an elongated period until the pre Covid-19 levels of typically around 90% are seen again.


Environment, Sustainability and Governance


ESG and CO2 emissions are currently at the forefront of industry conversations at events and panels and significant investments into hydrogen and electric powered flight are underway. It is likely that the entire ESG aspect of Aviation will become increasingly crucial in future fleet planning and green financing. This trend has likely had a direct impact on the demise of the A380, which we discuss in more detail below.


Demise of the A380


Production of the A380, an already suffering airframe, has now ceased as the airframer has received no further orders, despite attempts to introduce the A380 plus. With 4 engines, circa 550 PAX and limited routes, this airframes size is no longer advantageous.

In a market that is struggling to fill a single deck Widebody, the airframe will likely diminish further still.


British Airways (BA) and others, are rumoured to be bringing some of their A380s back into service but is this could be due to attempts to keep the airframe alive until a time when spares carry more value than the airframe itself. It could also potentially be due to more regular emptier flights being preferable over fewer, fuller journeys.


Production Rates


Widebody production rates for the year to date are below 100 and favoured heavily towards Airbus and its A350. Rates are intentionally being kept low whilst the recovery from Covid-19 is still underway. Delayed deliveries continue whilst older aircraft are either taking early retirement or moving to conversion. Load factors in the cargo space remain at all time highs due to e-commerce enhancing an already buoyant market.


Conversion Programmes


Aircraft as young as 8 years old are coming out of storage and moving towards conversion. This reinforces reports of the success of cargo operations and demonstrates an increased demand for P2F. The youngest aircraft type entering conversion is the 767 at less than 15 years of age, with the majority of all aircraft earmarked for conversion is either a 757 or 767. This is partially due to Boeing conversions having more success and/or capacity for conversion.


Values


When comparing Widebody values of a select few aircraft types, as Figure 2 shows, a direct correlation between their trajectories is evident.

Figure 2: Shows the value change of aircraft (5 year old fixed age).

The A380 was already at a low level before Covid-19. We can see this from tracking aircraft values using our VesselsValue Utilisation Sentiment model, which enables us to bridge the gap between transactions where necessary.


The value of an A350 is sustaining as we would expect, due to new technology aircraft being introduced.


The value for an older 767 has reduced as a direct result of transactions and conversion sale trends which we include in our VV algorithms.


Conclusion


The diverse range of sizes, capabilities, ranges and more allow the Widebodies to sustain itself in the market (to a point). They operate on routes that match their capabilities and sizes, and as a result, many will survive the Covid-19 cull of retiring aircraft before their due time.


Other Widebodies will move into the cargo space and the average age of the PAX Widebody will reduce from its current standing. Furthermore, older technology will be replaced with new technologies at more balanced rates. ESG is likely to force the 4 engine aircraft out of the marketplace, with the only real success of the 4 engines being that it was previously dubbed ‘the queen of the skies’ and its highly successful conversion programmes.


VesselsValue data as of October 2021
Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog is to provide general information and not to provide advice or guidance in relation to particular circumstances. Readers should not make decisions in reliance on any statement or opinion contained in this blog.


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