Air traffic back down to 1980s levels

The volume of air traffic in Germany has more than halved as a result of the coronavirus crisis. DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH recorded a total of 1.46 million take-offs, landings and overflights under instrument flight rules in 2020. The company is not anticipating a recovery for several years.

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung controlled fewer aircraft in 2020 than at any point since it was founded in 1993. Only around 1.46 million flights were recorded in German airspace in 2020. This represents 56.2 percent fewer than in the previous year, when 3.33 million aircraft movements were registered. As such, the volume of traffic in Germany has fallen back to pre-reunification levels. Indeed, a total of 1.47 million flights were recorded in the airspace of the Federal Republic of Germany back in 1989. With just a few interruptions, the volume of traffic has risen virtually continuously since this time.

“Passenger traffic has been particularly hard hit in 2020 due to the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases now being recorded in many countries and the travel restrictions once again being imposed as a result of this,” commented Dirk Mahns, Chief Operations Officer (COO) at DFS. All airports are suffering here, although the two major hubs of Frankfurt and Munich are recording the greatest losses in absolute terms. On the other hand, air freight is encountering only modest reductions. “Airports that handle a high proportion of freight have therefore observed significantly fewer drops in traffic,” added Mahns. Above all, this applies to Leipzig Halle Airport, where the number of take-offs and landings was only around 18 percent lower than in the previous year.

DFS does not expect the volume of air traffic to recover quickly, even following the successful development and initial roll-out of coronavirus vaccines in individual countries. “It will likely be 2025 before we see a return to pre-pandemic levels,” commented Mahns. Until that time, DFS will collect around two billion euros less in charges than originally budgeted, yet will not be able to reduce its costs to the same degree. After all, the German air navigation service provider must keep at least 70 percent of controllers in place – even with very low traffic figures – as the tower and airspaces cannot simply be closed. On the contrary: “We continue to provide our service, even during times of crisis,” explained the COO. “Air traffic remains highly important, not least for the distribution of vaccines throughout the world. This obviously also requires effective and reliable air navigation services.”

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