Air traffic in Portugal last year dropped more than twenty years, to the levels recorded in 1998, according to preliminary data collected by NAV - Navegação Aérea de Portugal last year
Between January and December, NAV controlled 345 thousand flights in Portuguese airspace, “the worst record since 1998”, which leads the president of the public company, Manuel Teixeira Rolo, to say that “we are experiencing an unprecedented crisis, but with eyes on the future ”.
“NAV Portugal managed 345,3 flights (…) in 2020, a year negatively marked by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic that were particularly felt in civil aviation. The total number of movements controlled by NAV last year represents the worst record since 1998, the year in which air traffic control managed 357 thousand flights in the flight information regions under the responsibility of NAV Portugal. From 1998 to the present, the total movements controlled by NAV remained in a practically constant growth until the maximum registered in 2019, when NAV controlled 816 thousand flights (…) ”, points out a statement from NAV Portugal.
The same document adds that "the value of 2020 thus represents a 58% drop in traffic from 2019 to 2020 and a decrease of practically 22 years in terms of total aircraft in the airspace under the responsibility of Portugal".
In absolute terms, there was a drop of more than 470 thousand flights compared to the previous year.
“In general terms, it should be noted that traffic across the Eurocontrol network dropped 55% over the past year.
After the first two months of 2020 had passed under 'normal' conditions, with the NAV registering the same 119 movements registered in January and February 2019, in March the WHO [World Health Organization] declared Covid-19 as a pandemic, and several air connections started to be suspended and demand was falling ”, recalls NAV Portugal.
It is recalled that Eurocontrol covers Belgium, Ireland, Hungary, Sweden, Monaco, Albania, Lithuania, Morocco, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Germany, Greece, Austria, Italy, Spain, Poland , Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Denmark, Romania, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Georgia, Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Bulgaria, Moldova, Serbia, Estonia, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Slovenia, Croatia, Finland, Armenia and Israel.
The statement in question explains that "the effects on traffic were immediate, with flights managed by NAV falling to -94% in April, -92% in May and -88% in June, compared to the same months of 2019" .
“Over the summer, traffic improved slightly, 'stabilizing' at levels equivalent to -55% compared to the same period in 2019, but the last months of the year were marked by a further deterioration, a trend that continues in these first days of 2021 ”, reveals NAV Portugal.
Against this backdrop, Manuel Teixeira Rolo considers this to be “one of the biggest challenges that NAV has ever faced”.
“It was a situation that caught everyone off guard. No one ever thought it possible for aviation to come to near complete immobility. Adapting the operation to the conditions of the pandemic and, at the same time, to the urgent demands of transporting medical supplies, emergency flights and hundreds of repatriation flights to various European countries, was one of the biggest challenges that NAV has ever faced. It is a source of pride for all our teams to have been able to keep the skies open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even in the face of these extremely difficult adversities ”, stresses the president of NAV.
For the company president, “on the day that we mark the 22nd anniversary of NAV Portugal, it is with a mixture of sadness and pride that we face this past year”.
“On the one hand, the pandemic crisis and all the costs and impacts it brought to thousands and thousands of families, left us with a feeling of deep sadness and concern. On the other hand, it is with pride that we look back and see the agile, fast, resilient and professional way in which NAV has dealt with a totally unexpected situation that has never been seen in our lifetime ”, defends the president of NAV.
For Manuel Teixeira Rolo, "although even the most pessimistic forecasts have been decimated by the evolution of the pandemic scenario, with greater falls over the year than initially forecast, we estimate that this year will be of some stability".
The expectations of the president of NAV Portugal are based on Eurocontrol estimates, according to which total traffic in 2021 should be “well below pre-pandemic values, although it is expected that next summer will bring a more accelerated recovery of the total of flights".
“The return to values close to the total flights recorded in 2019, on the other hand, should only occur in 2024, predicts Eurocontrol. So, despite the unprecedented crisis that aviation and economies are facing at this time, preparing for the short, medium and long-term future is already among NAV's priorities for this and the years to come. In addition to preparing for the entry into operation of a new traffic management system, work on the new operating room is also continuing, in a clear sign that NAV Portugal is committed to the continuous improvement of its operation and prepared for the post period pandemic, ”said the statement.
The total number of flights managed by NAV, or 'movements', includes not only flights with origin / destination at Portuguese airports, but also those flying over airspace under Portuguese responsibility.
NAV Portugal manages the RIV - Lisbon Flight Information Region, with 671 thousand square kilometers, which covers mainland Portugal and the Madeira archipelago (RIV 1); and the RIV - Santa Maria Flight Information Region (RIV 2), with 5,18 million square kilometers, which includes a vast area of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Azores archipelago.
NAV Portugal is the provider of air navigation services in airspace under the responsibility of Portugal, which is divided into the two referred RIVs.
The company has "a team of around one thousand highly qualified technicians who ensure the safety of passengers and airplanes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year".
In addition to the air traffic control centers in Lisbon and Santa Maria, NAV manages the control towers in Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Funchal, Porto Santo, Santa Maria, Ponta Delgada, Horta, Flores and Cascais.