Portugal registered 345,300 flights in 2020, the lowest number since 1998 and a 58% drop compared to last year (816,000). The announcement was made this week by national aviation authority NAV.
Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic is to blame.
Says the aviation authority, the first two months of 2020 went as expected with the same 119,000 flights as the year prior.
But everything changed in March with the outbreak of the virus.
By April, the number of flights had dropped a staggering 94% compared to the same month in 2019.
The crisis continued into May (-92%) and June (-88%), albeit less noticeable in the summer months (-55%). By October, however, the air travel industry saw another nosedive into practically unprecedented numbers, a tendency which has continued into 2021.
“It (the virus) caught everyone off-guard,” said NAV president Manuel Teixeira Rolo.
“No one ever thought it would be possible for aviation to stop almost completely. Adapting to the restrictions of the pandemic while simultaneously meeting the urgent demands of transporting medical items and carrying out emergency flights and hundreds of repatriation flights to many European countries were some of the largest challenges NAV has ever faced,” he added.
Despite the hardships, Rolo said he was proud that the aviation authority was able to “keep the skies open 24 hours per day, 365 days a year, even in the face of very tough adversities”.
As he explained, there is a bittersweet feeling about the past year.
“On the one hand, the pandemic crisis and all the costs and impacts it had on thousands and thousands of families left us feeling deeply sad and worried. On the other, we feel proud that we reacted quickly, resiliently and professionally to a completely unexpected situation which had never before been seen in our lifetime,” the aviation boss said.
Hopes are that 2021 will bring “some stability” to the sector, he added.
The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) estimates that air traffic numbers in 2021 will remain low compared to recent years, although it is expected that the number of flights will improve significantly by the summer.
However, the numbers are only expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, the organisation adds.