While some areas of the country should see the overall number of airline flights (if not necessarily passenger levels) come back to near parity with pre-pandemic totals as spring rolls on, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will not be among them.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing most major U.S. airlines, says airports in April will see, overall, a one-third decline in flights compared to April 2019.
But that figure will vary widely on a state-by-state basis, with one state – Montana – even expected to see a slight uptick in flights as travelers flock to vacation spots.
Reagan National, which is calculated separately from Virginia, as it essentially is a D.C.-based airport, is expected to see a 52-percent dropoff in flights in April from the same period two years ago. Only Massachusetts (also off 53 percent), Vermont (down 55 percent) and New York (off 56 percent) are expected to fare as bad or worse.
Virginia is expected to show a 42-percent dropoff (including Washington Dulles International Airport but not including Reagan National). The figure for Maryland is 34 percent.
Among states that are within 10 percent of April 2019 figures: Idaho, Utah, South Dakota and Colorado. Among the largest states, Florida is expected to record a 16-percent dropoff in flights, Texas 21 percent and California 45 percent.
(Full data can be found here: https://bit.ly/2OUX2jJ.)
The arrival of vaccines, the easing of some government restrictions and the fact that many Americans have wearied of the entire lockdown situation have led an uptick in recent weeks in overall passenger volumes. In the most recent week reported (ending March 16), domestic airline passenger volume was down 50 percent from 2019. International travel was off 68 percent.
Whether, or how soon, the aviation sector will rebound to its pre-pandemic records remains an open question. A compendium of analyst data by Airlines for America presents a best-case scenario that total passenger traffic will return to 2019 levels by 2023, while a more pessimistic reading suggests it will still be down 15 percent that year.
Either way, airlines will have a hole to dig out of. U.S. passenger airlines incurred $35 billion in net losses in 2020, the U.S. airline industry is not expected to see positive cash flow at least through the third quarter of 2021, and “it will take years for airlines to retire the newly accumulated billions of dollars of debt,” Airlines for America said.