Has The Pandemic Impacted The Top Aircraft Types By Usage?

To say that the past year has been like nothing commercial aviation has ever experienced, we can all agree, would be something of an understatement. The year 2020 marked the premature exit of many a fan-favorite icon quadjet, saw runways made into parking lots, and not to mention the rise of the ‘preighter’. It grabbed what we took for granted about air travel and turned it upside down. One year on, has it had any impact on which types of aircraft operate the most flights?

Lunar Eclipse Plane Moon China Getty
Twelve months on, has the pandemic affected which types of aircraft operate the most flights? Photo: Getty Images

Airlines first began canceling commercial flights to mainland China in earnest in early February 2020. Many services to Italy were cut towards the end of the month. As such, we chose to look at January 2020, and January 2021 to compare air traffic by aircraft type. Our friends over at Radarbox.com were able to provide us with the following data.

The top five aircraft types in use operated a total of 5,042,707 flights during the month of January 2020. The corresponding number for the first month of 2021 was 3,505,074. While the total majority of flights went to one of the big manufacturers, the top spot is held by a model from the other. And a humble single-engine climbed one rung on the ladder.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Does the top spot remain intact?

The most number of flights by any aircraft in January 2020 was operated by the Boeing 737-800, and it held on to the front-runner spot in 2021. However, the total number of flights by Boeing’s top-selling narrowbody dropped by nearly half, from 632,628 to 336,681.

Ryanair, Health Passport, Summer 2021
Despite its largest operator down 88% in capacity in January 2021, the 737-800 remains at the top position. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The world’s largest 737-800 operator, Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair with 435 across the Group, was still flying at only 12% of capacity in January 2021. This dropped to even less, a mere 5%, in February, which would decrease the total number of B738 flights, but not enough to dethrone Boeing from the top spot.

Second place to A320ceo

The runner-up position for most flights operated by an aircraft type also remains the same. With 575,319 flights in January 2020 and 247,037 in the corresponding month one year on, the Airbus A320 retains its second place. (Note that this does not include the neo version of the aircraft.)

JetBlue A320
Not surprisingly, the A320 still comes in second. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The Skyhawk takes third

In January 2020, the third spot was held by the Airbus A321 with 212,077 flights. However, one year later, it had been overtaken by a general aviation aircraft. The only model in the top five to actually increase the number of flights was the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

Previously in fourth place, the four-seat, single-engine plane upped its total number of flights from 175,926 in January 2020, to 193,552 one year on. It is not difficult to speculate why.

United plane
The A319 fell out of the top five over the year that passed. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Newcomer in fourth, A321 drops to fifth, A319 no longer qualifies

In 2021, the A321 (dropping to fifth place with less than half of the flights from January 2020 – 105,448) was overtaken not only by the Cessna 172 but also by its close relative. In fourth place, there is a new entry onto the list – the A320neo, with 115,512 flights. Meanwhile, the Airbus A319 dropped out of the top five, where last year it took the final spot with 167,101 flights.

Are there any surprises for you in the top five aircraft in the sky? What would you like us to look at when it comes to the number of flights by aircraft types or airlines? Leave a comment below and let us know.