In what has seemed like a few short weeks, a pandemic has turned the aviation world (and the rest of the world) completely upside down. Previous forecasts have become completely useless, and companies at every level of the value chain are scrambling to correct.

What has happened so far?

The supply chain has been hit especially hard. Crunched airlines are conserving cash or paying it out to workers, but not generally to vendors.

Cuts to flight capacity arrived quickly and have been deep. Parts demand has not fallen as far yet. There has been a 75% drop in daily flights (i.e,. cycles) since the beginning of March [1]. Parts demand (approximated by RFQ volume) is only down by about half as much.

Parts demand has not fallen as much as flight volume, which is already down 75% from pre-crisis levels.

In the eyes of the optimist, parts trading may be hitting a floor, supported by essential service that is still flying, the gradual reopening of some countries, and pre-scheduled base maintenance.

Just as likely is that parts trading trends lag flight volume trends by a month or more, and the decline is set to continue. There are still significant capacity reductions happening [2].

Broken down by week, demand for parts has fallen significantly in 4 of the last 5 weeks. Reduced flying has translated to reduced need for materials and repairs. There was an encouraging jump in the last week, which we believe to be related to cargo service and one-off demand. The US government also passed a large relief package. Despite this, we do expect the overall declining demand trend to continue for at least the next few weeks.

Unsurprisingly, demand for parts has fallen significantly 4 of the last 5 weeks.

Some caveats on the above:

  • The data shown is global. Some regions are more disrupted than others.
  • Although "demand" has dropped 36% from pre-pandemic levels, anecdotally, receivables are building up as buyers conserve cash.

What will be the long-term effects on the aftermarket?

While we don't know how quickly the recovery will come, there will almost certainly be lasting change for the aftermarket.

This might mean faster adoption of new technology (for communication, inspection, etc.) to stay competitive, a prolonged focus on efficiency/cost, and more intense competition for fewer contracts.

At Rotabull, we're seeing a significant uptick in signups for our own system, and other technology that make it easier to work remotely.

What other lasting effects could we see?

The effects of this crisis to the aviation industry already are wide-ranging. Here are a few of the macro effects we're already seeing playing out:

  • Shift in fleet makeup: Airlines are deferring deliveries of new aircraft. Post-Covid-19 airlines may keep around midlife and older aircraft they wouldn't have otherwise, which would be a tailwind for the MRO industry. On the other hand, we are seeing much older aircraft being retired early to shrink their fleets. Whether the average aircraft age goes up or down, fleets will likely be smaller.
  • Faster digitization: We are seeing remote sales, remote inspections, remote audits, and remote deliveries. This crisis is forcing companies to re-evaluate processes to make them more digital, and less resource-intensive.  It seems likely the industry will emerge much more digital, by necessity.
  • Re-calibration of emissions benchmarks: Although emissions discussions are taking a back seat to crisis management today, the downturn could have significant effects for sustainability. The CORSIA agreement commits airlines to reduce emissions below a 2020 baseline. At the time, this didn't seem like a big deal. However, with flights down 75%, the baseline is much lower than anyone bargained for, and the effect will be significant.
  • Potential for slot rule reform: There has been a lot of publicity around "ghost flights," or empty flights airlines are making so they don't lose their slots at slot-controlled airports. European and US regulators have changed the rules for now. More extensive slot reform is also a possibility now.
  • More carrier consolidation: Already, several airlines have ended operations permanently. It seems likely more will follow, and there will be some consolidation among the remaining airlines.

The next few weeks will be telling as it becomes clear whether parts trading volumes bottom out, or keep falling. The effect of the US stimulus will also become more clear.  We will keep an eye on these macro effects.

[1] Source: Seer Aerospace Daily Flight Data, 2020-04-07.

[2] Source: Diio, Coronavirus Flight Cancelation Tracker