American Airlines will temporarily ground most of its wide-body fleet as it cuts the vast majority of its international long-haul flying amid the rapidly growing novel coronavirus pandemic.
The temporary fleet change will see the Oneworld alliance carrier send roughly 135 wide-bodies to storage from March 16 through at least May 6, American said late Saturday. The airline flew 150 such aircraft, including Airbus A330 and Boeing 767, 777 and 787 models, at the end of December.
American previously unveiled plans to retire its 767 fleet by May, and its Boeing 757 fleet by mid-2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The airline’s fleet reduction comes as it slashes international capacity by 75% from March 16 through May 6. The move will see American suspend nearly all of its long-haul routes operated by wide-body jets to Asia, Australia, Europe and South America.
American plans to operate three long-haul routes during the March-May period: Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to London Heathrow (LHR) and Tokyo Narita (NRT), and Miami (MIA) to London Heathrow.
American said its short-haul international flying to destinations in Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Central America and “certain markets in the northern part of South America” will continue “as scheduled,” at least for now.
The new cuts announced Saturday come as governments around the world restrict traveler arrivals in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 disease. U.S. authorities will expand European travel restrictions to Ireland and the UK beginning March 16.
American will also reduce domestic U.S. capacity by 20% year-over-year in April, and 30% in May.
The reductions follow similar ones made by Delta Air Lines on Thursday. The Atlanta-based SkyTeam Alliance carrier will cut global capacity by 40% and park up to 300 jets, including both narrow-bodies and wide-bodies, as it sees demand plummet amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The speed of the demand fall-off is unlike anything we’ve seen – and we’ve seen a lot in our business,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian in an employee memo on the cuts.
United Airlines has yet to announce as sweeping of cuts as American and Delta. The Chicago-based carrier was the first U.S. airline to announce significant systemwide capacity cuts on March 4. United president Scott Kirby said on March 10 that the airline planned to extend an at least 20% system capacity cut beyond April through the summer.
The depth of the capacity cuts and fleet reductions at U.S. carriers is unlike anything they have seen before. The closest parallel is 9/11 in 2001, however most cuts were limited to about 20-25% of system capacity in the months immediately following the attacks.
In terms of fleet, airlines either parked or accelerated the retirement of many of their older jets after 9/11. The Boeing 727, Boeing 737-200 and Douglas DC-10 were among the aircraft types that disappeared sooner than they otherwise would have from U.S. fleets after the attacks.