The Airbus A220 appears to be the little plane that could. While most of the aviation industry is still recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that Airbus’ littlest jet has already forgotten about the crisis, with scheduled flights exceeding those from before the downturn.
In aviation, size is everything. On busy routes, you want the biggest planes to reduce your slot usage at key hub airports. However, bigger isn’t always better. The drop in passenger numbers prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the smaller end of the commercial jet spectrum coming out ahead.
Ahead of the pre-pandemic for the first time
According to aviation data experts Cirium, it seems as though the Airbus A220 is now exceeding its pre-pandemic schedule for the first time in terms of the number of flights operated by the global fleet. In June 2021, 11,914 flights were scheduled to be operated by the Airbus A220-100 and A220-300.
This compares to 10,570 in June 2019. In other words, the number of flights increased by 13% from June 2019 to June 2021. Looking at the future schedules of the aircraft, airlines are currently expecting to increase the number of Airbus A220 flights even further over the coming months, with a staggering 19,060 flights presently scheduled for December 2021. Of course, with December still half a year out, the schedule could still drastically change.
It seems that the milestone may have been reached slightly earlier had it not been for Europe’s third wave. In January 2019, 7,366 flights were scheduled with the fleet, compared to 7,377 in January 2021. The third COVID-19 wave led to airBaltic trimming its schedules slightly.
Why is the A220 doing so well?
A significant factor in the Airbus A220’s increasing dominance in the aviation industry is simply to do with the number of aircraft that can fly. According to data from ch-aviation.com, 158 aircraft from the Airbus A220 family have been delivered to airlines worldwide. This includes deliveries under the aircraft’s previous name, the Bombardier C-Series.
60 of these aircraft have been delivered since the start of 2020, 13 -100s and 47 -300s. It goes without saying that a fleet increase of 61% will lead to a rise in the number of flights being operated by the type. However, this only counts if the airline is using the aircraft in question. For example, Fiji Airways has taken delivery of three Boeing 737 MAX 8. As the airline isn’t flying these jets yet, they don’t count towards the total number of MAX aircraft flying.
Two key advantages
The Airbus A220 has two key advantages that have made it popular with airlines during the pandemic. First up is the number of passengers the aircraft holds. With its 2-3 seating configuration, the aircraft seats a maximum of 135 passengers in the -100 edition and 160 in the -300. Typically the aircraft would seat fewer passengers.
The lower passenger counts on the aircraft had meant that airlines had found them easier to fill during the pandemic when demand dried up on many routes. This brings us nicely to our second point, fuel efficiency.
While most of the aircraft being used for short-haul flights worldwide are based on aging designs, the Airbus A220 is a different story. Having taken its first flight in September 2013, the design of the A220 family is less than a decade old. As a result, the aircraft is reasonably efficient compared to some more aging designs.
Both of the above points combine to make the aircraft more attractive for airlines, especially while the demand for flights remains low.
Which airlines are flying the A220?
According to data from Cirium, there are currently nine airlines flying the Airbus A220. Delta Air Lines is currently the largest operator of the type in terms of scheduled flights, followed by SWISS, airBaltic, and Air Canada, and EgyptAir. Air Austral, Air Tanzania, JetBlue, and Korean Airlines operated under 1,000 flights in June.
In January 2019, Delta Air Lines held none of the Airbus A220 market. However, thanks to rapid aircraft deliveries, it has grown to a crucial part of the market. In June, of the 11,914 flights scheduled, 4,843 were operated by Delta Air Lines, meaning that the US airline accounted for 41% of that month’s A220 flights.
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Air Canada pushing flights up
While most airlines noticed a dip in their schedules at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, one airline that didn’t face such an effect was Air Canada. The Canadian flag carrier began flying the Airbus A220 at low levels in January 2020, right before the pandemic really took off. As such, it never really got a chance to establish A220 operations before walking them back.
This means that apart from a drop from March to April last year, the airline has only really seen growth with its fleet. As mentioned, the increase in scheduled flights from June 2019 to June 2021 was 1,344 flights. Air Canada had 1,250 flights scheduled in June 2021, meaning it was essentially responsible for 93% of the increase if you assume other airlines were operating at their July 2019 levels.
Of course, it isn’t quite that simple, as while some airlines are operating more flights, others are operating less. airBaltic’s flight levels still sit at 776 fewer flights for June 2021, although from this month onwards, the scheduled flights increase to above 2019 levels. Meanwhile, in June 2021, Delta Air Lines operated 3,319 flights more than 2019.
What do you make of the A220’s rise above pre-pandemic traffic levels? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!