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Expert view

Understanding Cirium’s methodology for stored aircraft during COVID-19

June 1, 2020

The global airline demand scenario has been significantly disrupted as a consequence of the COVID-19 health pandemic. Many airlines have […]

The global airline demand scenario has been significantly disrupted as a consequence of the COVID-19 health pandemic. Many airlines have stored aircraft with daily changes to the dynamic of this since February 2020.

Prior to the pandemic

Our standard approach to ‘storing’ aircraft prior to the pandemic was to do so after 2 weeks continuous inactivity . This is always added to with Subject Matter Expertise from our dedicated team of researchers, meaning our data will remain fluid and some aircraft may be shown as stored before returning to service within 2 weeks. At which point we will remove the stored status period entirely.

Shut down stage of the pandemic

During the initial stages of the pandemic, Airlines and Governments were announcing fleet, airspace and operational adjustments, however there was a lag in our empirical data when compared to these comments as some were not specific or those plans changed. An example would be airlines announcing the grounding of their fleet for passenger flights, however repatriation and cargo flights using passenger aircraft continued, so Cirium has been reflecting the most accurate data it can on the status of aircraft. Given that our stored data is derived from our flight tracking data, which reflects actual flights flown on a daily and near real-time basis, we are confident that our stored fleet detail reflects the actual situation as closely as possible, albeit with some short lag around parking and returning aircraft to operation during this first phase of the pandemic.

For a short period we also differentiated between storage and aircraft parked for heavy maintenance, however we have now removed this as many aircraft having heavy maintenance have remained inactive for much longer than normal heavy checks or have ferried to storage locations prior or post checks. We will now revert to our normal state of not tracking the maintenance events, however we are exploring options for the future.

In addition Cirium added a provisional future return to service date of 30/09/2020 to aircraft which we believe to be temporarily parked due to the COVID-19 health pandemic and where the airline has not indicated any return to service date and while the coming few months remain unclear, we will continue to monitor the situation. Airlines that provide different return to service dates for specific aircraft, or fleets will have those reflected and as aircraft are returned to service, each aircraft will be treated on an individual basis. The 30/09/2020 will also be reviewed during Q3 2020.

Hibernation phase of the pandemic

As of Monday 27th April, to reflect the “Hibernation” phase of the pandemic we adjusted our classification of aircraft being placed into storage from 7 consecutive days back to 14. This is the criteria we applied prior to the start of the highly dynamic mass storage phase.

To re-cap, from the start of February up until the 27th April 2020 we tightened the window to 7 days to reflect the rapid groundings by operators around the world and enable our customers to see an accurate view of the “storage landscape”.

At the same we were now starting to see some aircraft return to operational service, particularly in Asia, and our criteria for updating our fleets data was as follows:

  • an aircraft is considered to be in-service once we see flight activity on at least three of the preceding seven days,
  • in addition, we also accepted five out of the preceding 14 days in recognition that a significant proportion of the fleet is seeing regular but highly sporadic utilisation.

The reason we set the tolerance at 3 days is to avoid any confusion over one-off repatriation or cargo flights that are occurring globally and seem to be very ad-hoc in their nature thus not reflecting true operation. In addition airlines were still adjusting to what may become the “new normal” and as such their fleets were still fluid in terms of storage and in service plans.

Rebuild & Recovery phase of the pandemic

As of June 1st 2020 Cirium will be making a further adjustment to best reflect the current in service and stored fleets.

Aircraft will now be reflected as entering storage if any of the following criteria are met;

  • 30 days of continuous inactivity
  • Ferrying to a known storage facility or locations used by airlines during this Pandemic, Bournemouth in the UK an example with British Airways.
  • Airlines announce groundings or retirements of aircraft with immediate effect
    • or on specific dates before the 30 day tolerance
  • Aircraft already in storage that are ferried to new storage locations will be tracked and continue to be in storage
    • the same applying for aircraft placed into maintenance during their storage

Aircraft will now be returned to service once we see at least 1 flight or in most cases one pair/set of flights after a period of storage or inactivity, however this will still be reviewed by our dedicated SMEs in our research team. This will also take into account any of the following events that would not trigger a return to service;

  • Ferry flights from one storage location to another or for maintenance after a period of storage
  • Test flights either to and from the same location or as part of ongoing maintenance/cabin re-fits or painting will excluded from return to operation

In addition;

  • Aircraft previously/currently in service that are placed into Maintenance will not be shown as in storage;
    • If Heavy Checks are being conducted these may take longer than 30 days
    • Wherever possible we will track these events and confirm aircraft are still in service
    • The time these checks now take and where they take place can be heavily impacted and so some aircraft on heavy checks may be classified as in storage
  • Given the fluid nature it is not always possible to confirm definitively the reasons for inactivity.
  • Cirium will also monitor the frequency of the changes we see and will endeavour to mitigate aircraft having two prolonged periods of inactivity either side of 1 flight
    • This will of course be retrospective updates and made on a case by case basis
    • However we will not be retrospectively applying the new storage and in service classifications to data prior to June 1st 2020

Cirium will continue to adjust its tolerances and methodology in reaction to the changing landscape and as Airlines and the industry adapt to the new normal. If there are any queries or observations from our clients, then we welcome the feedback and are happy to review and adjust if necessary, the methodology we apply

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