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COVID-19 impact on jet fuel demand

Published by , Senior Editor
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Efforts to contain the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have dramatically changed global commercial passenger flight volumes. These flights averaged a little more than 70 000 flights per day in January and February, fell to an average of less than 25 000 flights per day in April, and then started to increase again in May. Commercial jet fuel consumption showed a similar pattern, falling from an average of 4.3 million bpd in January and February to 1 million bpd in April, reports the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

To estimate global changes in jet fuel consumption, the EIA recently began using data from aviation company Cirium that detail each scheduled commercial passenger flight, including the type of aircraft flown and its route, since January 2019. Using data on each flight’s origin and destination, EIA estimated the volume of jet fuel consumed by each flight and summed these flights to estimate the total volume of jet fuel consumed globally by commercial passenger flights.

EIA estimates that consumption of jet fuel by commercial passenger flights averaged 1.6 million bpd during the first two weeks of July, 69% less than the level one year ago. The largest decline in global demand for jet fuel occurred during March and April, coinciding with the initial, intensified efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Globally, consumption of jet fuel by commercial passenger flights declined by 0.7 million bpd between February and March and by 2.4 million bpd between March and April, although demand grew by only 0.1 million bpd in May and 0.3 million bpd in June. Similar trends are also occurring at the region and country levels.

Although the timing of a market’s initial decline and low point varies (largely reflecting the timing of the spread of COVID-19), jet fuel demand in nearly every major market has increased from the lows of April and May. The extent of this recovery has not been equal, however. Although average June 2020 consumption of jet fuel by commercial flights in China (including Macau and Hong Kong) was down 43% relative to the same time last year, consumption was down significantly more in other parts of the world:

  • 70% in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
  • 75% in the US.
  • 77% in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • 80% in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.
  • 85% in the rest of Africa.
  • 88% in the rest of the Americas.

The share of air travel that occurs within a country’s borders is one key driver of declines in demand for jet fuel. Because of the less severe restrictions on domestic travel, the shorter distances typically involved, and the larger share of domestic air travel for business or non-recreational purposes, interior airports that cater primarily to domestic air travel have generally recovered faster than their typically coastal, more internationally oriented peers. Evidence of this recovery is in the relative resurgence of jet fuel consumption by domestic flights. Despite constituting 30% of all jet fuel consumed globally by commercial passenger flights in June 2019, as of June 2020, the domestic flight share had grown to 56%. This trend has been particularly true in China, where the share of jet fuel consumed by domestic flights rose from 53% to 83% during the same period.

EIA’s methodology for estimating the volume of jet fuel consumed by commercial passenger flights is not without its limitations. Importantly, the estimate does not measure total jet fuel consumption because it excludes consumption by military aircraft, non-passenger cargo flights, and general aviation.

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