Flights to and from UK fell by 75% across 2020

Heathrow cargo flight

Cargo flights grew in 2020 – one bright spot. Photo: Heathrow Airport

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK aviation in 2020 has been outlined in data just released by the UK CAA.

The data shows that passenger numbers in and out of the UK fell by 75.3% to 68.5 million across 2020, with overall air transport movements down by 63.4%. However, freight cargo saw an increase of 56.8% compared to 2019.

Prior to the pandemic, the UK had seen an increasing number of passengers year-on-year for some time. However, 2020 got off to a slow start even prior to the pandemic as February saw poor weather conditions causing many cancellations.

Along with the emerging news around COVID-19 beginning to dampen demand, this contributed to a 1.8% decline in passengers on February 2019.

From March 2020, COVID-19 had a rapid effect on passenger numbers passing through UK airports. April and May saw passenger numbers fall by almost 98% on 2019 figures, with only 700,000 passengers travelling through UK airports across these usually busy months.

A partial recovery occurred during the summer as travel restrictions were eased. Despite this, only 11.1 million passengers flew in and out of the UK from July through to September, down 82% on the same timeframe in 2019.

Due to an increase in coronavirus cases in autumn, further restrictions came into place for international travel, which reduced demand. National lockdowns and travel restrictions throughout winter saw holiday plans cancelled, with December passenger numbers falling by 87.9% from December 2019.

Despite passenger numbers falling in 2020, aviation played a vital role bringing much needed cargo and medical supplies to the UK from overseas.

Cargo operations increased by 42.7% in 2020, with traditionally commercial passenger airlines operating dedicated cargo flights across the globe. The UK saw 1,348,044 tonnes of freight on cargo dedicated aircraft in 2020, an increase of 56.8% from the previous year.