After a 6 to 24 month breather, people who like to travel are going to return to travel as soon as it is safe to do so and globalization will resume. We will be well above 2019 passenger volumes by 2022 or 2023. If the 777-9 cant find a market, I would also assume the global A380 fleet will be retired entirely next year, which is just as unlikely.
The question is, where do we start counting that 6-24 mths. Is it 6-24 mths after May 2020? Or is it 6-24 mths after a vaccine comes out (which would be 2022 the earliest)? The growing consensus is that the situation is not going to resolve itself any time soon. While the most severe lock downs will end in a few weeks, the new "normal" or the new "business-as-usual" is not what we remember as-of Jan 2020. Extreme testing and contact tracing will be in place. Some level of social distancing will continue. Sporadic outbreak will happen which result in localized lock downs from time to time. These will not end until most people have some immunity (i.e. after most people in the world has been infected or a vaccine comes out and most people get vaccinated). So disruptions will continue. People will be concern about flying and getting stranded until then. The 6-24 mths look set to start counting only when global immunity sets in.
If we use the Spanish flu as reference, there were three major waves of outbreak (for northern hemisphere): winter 1918, winter 1919 and winter 1920. There was no vaccine at that time. After 1920, it was not that the virus disappeared, it's just that most people have been infected so when they caught the same virus again, it's a mild flu that the body fights off quickly. That would mean we are looking at global immunity in around Apr 2022 if there is no vaccine. 6-24 mths after that would be Oct 2022 to Apr 2024. If that's the timeline you are looking at, then I do think demand for air travel will recover by 2024.
However, while leisure travel recovers, business travel, which is more profitable for the airlines and hotels, is going to suffer permanent reduction. In these 6 months, executives are going to find that 99% of their business continue more-or-less smoothly without any business travels. All those "I have to fly there to meet with XYZ to get this done" discussion in the office before turns out to be bs. The CFOs are going to ask why there are so much travels. Travel budget will get a major axe. Similarly, many companies who maintain office space for everyone will now delightfully find that they don't need office space for everyone to get things done. Personally, I know several international banks in London are already looking at permanently reducing office space. And it's not because of a one-time cost reduction to get thru the pandemic, but a true realization that they actually don't need to have everyone in the office to get things done. Imagine how much a firm can save if it can cut 50% space from their expensive office in Canary Wharf? The next thing they will look at is all those lucrative business class travels by all those VPs.
Going back to CX's 779 order, do remember that the 779 order is mainly to replace the 4-class 77W, so it's premium-seat heavy. The 3-class 77W are replaced by A350-1000 in the original scheme. If CX realizes that premium business travel will suffer permanently, it is not impossible that they find it unnecessary to have so many 4-class 779s. Personally, I do think they still need the 779s, but just not as many. May be 10 of those will do, for a very limited number of selective routes such as LHR, FRA, JFK, LAX and SFO. Most other routes can be dealt with by a 3-class A350-1000 and even with a downsize to A350-900, when the 77Ws retire.
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