coronavirus flight tracker creators

Some of the minds behind the tracker: Seth Miller (second from left), Danny Lee (third from left), Jason Rabinowitz (second from right) and Jon Ostrower (far right). Image via @jonostrower

As the coronavirus pandemic persists, members of the aviation community are volunteering their efforts towards spreading valuable data. What started as a mechanism to track flight cancellations on a route-by-route basis quickly evolved into a comprehensive spreadsheet listing the capacity cuts of the world’s major airlines.

Jason Rabinowitz, head of Catalogue Data at ATPCO, was trying to keep track of the fast-growing list of routes being cut in the aftermath of the US travel ban on most of the European Union. On March 12, he started a brief spreadsheet that tracked a handful of airlines, and shared it on Twitter along with a request to his followers to keep him updated.

Over the next few days, governments around the world began to closing borders in response to the World Health Organization labelling COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11. Airline cuts deepened, and the spreadsheet grew. No longer could it just list cancellations on the basis of affected routes. It now had to account for the load capacity of virtually every major airline in the world.

A handful of contributors banded together to help gather the details and update the Google spreadsheet. Seth Miller, founder of PaxEx.aero, Jon Ostrower, editor-in-chief of The Air Current, Nick Benson from JetTip, Danny Lee, Senior Reporter (Aviation) at South China Morning Post, and Ian Petchnik, Media and Community Relations at Flightradar24 are using their local knowledge and contacts to collectively keep the sheet up to date.

The goal, according to Miller, is to collect as much information as possible in a common location. “It started as data we were interested in collecting for ourselves, as journalists, as industry observers and as frequent travelers.” The spreadsheet helped its creators visualize how COVID-19 was directly affecting the airline industry.

“We’ve since heard from large and small aviation-related companies … that have used the information to help guide their planning.” – Seth Miller, PaxEx.aero

Much of the data is crowdsourced via Twitter, but the contributors cross-check reports and secure confirmation either directly from airlines or from reputable news outlets. “Even worse than a lack of data is giving out bad data” in a time of massive industry confusion, Miller said.

With dozens of people viewing the spreadsheet at any given time, it’s clear that the aviation world is interested in an organized and accurate presentation of this data. “We’ve since heard from large and small aviation-related companies as well as individuals that have used the information to help guide their planning,” he said.

After 12 days, the sheet contains a disconcerting amount of red, which indicates cuts of 95%-100%. A total of 85 carriers globally have cut capacity by at least 95%. Miller believes certain route networks will change forever and that business travel demand has undergone irreversible damage. “It will return, but it will look different from today.”

As for when the crisis will begin to resolve, Miller thinks that the cuts will bottom out in May and a slow recovery will begin in the summer, continuing into late 2020. He does not expect total passenger numbers to return to their usual levels until mid-2021. “I would be happy to see it [happen] faster than that, but I’m skeptical.”

Until then, this group of skywatchers will continue to supply vital info to their community. Miller claims that the most important thing for the creators is having the data out there.