Kayrros data show some surprising insights into US jet fuel demand throughout the past year, highlighting that especially in the case of COVID-19, things are not necessarily as they seem. In an unprecedented era of shut borders, lockdown measures and grounded domestic flights – and an overall disastrous year for US jet fuel demand—some airports have proved immune from COVID-19 or have even benefited from it, Kayrros data reveal: Anchorage, a major cargo hub between Asia and the US, and the three Midwestern centers of e-commerce: Cincinnati, Memphis and Louisville. New technologies are key to extracting the full story.

Jet fuel demand proves resilient across the Midwest

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US jet fuel consumption by region (Source: Kayrros)

The aviation industry has come into center focus amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with vast fleets of grounded flights serving as one of the most poignant visualizations of the past year. However, Kayrros data show not all airports were equally impacted; and in fact, the varying impacts seem to reflect changing consumer habits fueled by US lockdown measures.

Jet Fuel Demand Patterns Reflect Changing Consumer Habits

After a historic plunge in jet fuel demand during the April lockdowns, jet fuel demand across the Midwest recovered to roughly 80% of pre-COVID levels in December 2020, compared to just 60% and 70% across the East and West Coasts, respectively. Kayrros extracts these measurements by combining multiple datasets—such as air traffic signals, satellite imagery and machine-learning algorithms—to get the full picture. Throughout the pandemic, the Midwest outperformed other regions in the US in terms of COVID demand recovery, as opposed to dense air traffic locales like JFK or LAX. This is due to the region’s concentration of shipping and transport hubs, including the largest air package sorting centers of Amazon Air, FedEx and UPS, highlighting a pronounced shift in consumer habits to online orders fueled by lockdowns.

Some Habits Die Hard: Post-Holiday Season Shows Steeper Drop in Jet Fuel Demand

It’s normal for jet fuel demand to fall in January, as travel relaxes following the holiday season. However, in comparing this year’s jet fuel demand trends to 2020, the seasonal, post-Christmas holiday drop was more pronounced than usual across all regions, with aggregate consumption down by 157 kb/d in January month-on-month compared to just 35 kb/d in the year prior. Total US jet fuel demand plummeted 665 kb/d in January year-on-year, a staggering 40% decline.

Predictably, travel restrictions in response to the COVID pandemic impacted the East and West Coast the most, hosting some of the largest airports—Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, LAX and JFK make up three of the top five largest US airports—across the US and serving as the main connecting point for international travel. These two regions account for roughly three-quarters of the full US decline. The pandemic cut international travel by half across both coasts, a steeper drop than in other areas with smaller airports. New York, Florida, Atlanta, Seattle and California led the declines.

Kayrros geospatial data reveal that not all types of airports were impacted by COVID-19 in the same way. Though airports usually serving travelers took a plunge, those catering to cargo and located near e-commerce warehouses faced less of a blow. Kayrros airport level data show jet fuel consumption at San Francisco and New York JFK down to a mere third of pre-pandemic levels. In contrast, for cargo transit airports, the demand story is one of resilience and underscores the importance of e-commerce in the US’s new, socially distanced economy.

E-Commerce Keeps Jet Fuel Demand Strong

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US jet fuel consumption in 10 top airports (Source: Kayrros)

Kayrros data show four airports have seen flat or even increased jet fuel demand since COVID. Though seemingly counter-intuitive, a closer look reveals a clear reflection of changing consumer habits. Shipping hubs in the Midwest states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio account for most of these increases. The specific airports with increased demand are linked to large shipping carrier hubs which support e-commerce: FedEx, UPS, and Amazon Air.

• Memphis is home to Fed Ex’s “super hub,” and jet fuel demand was largely unaffected during 2020.
• Louisville, home to UPS’s largest air package sorting hub, was completely unaffected by COVID 19. No disruption to the volume of international or domestic jet fuel use was observed.
• Cincinnati, home to Amazon Air, experienced a subtle drop in jet fuel demand between March and April 2020. Unlike most of the US, the reduction comes from domestic flights, as international travel was virtually unaffected.

In Anchorage, Alaska, jet fuel demand rebounded with a vengeance in April and May after dipping in February and March, while most of the world remained shut down. Both international and domestic flights contributed to heightened demand in Anchorage, and overall consumption rose 20 % between 2019 and 2020. Alaska serves an important cargo hub and refueling spot for cargo aircraft between Asia and the rest of the US.

Diesel Demand Follows the Trend

Flourishing air cargo traffic at these airports has in turn supported diesel demand. Kayrros On Road Demand, which measures end-user fuel consumption as a key indicator of oil supply and demand, shows that long-haul trucking linked with diesel demand has increased 5% year-on-year in the wake of the pandemic, with the Midwest leading the charge.

Geospatial Data for Enhanced Demand Insights

These insights underscore the importance of leveraging multiple data sets to derive insights that previously could have been missed. Kayrros leverages aircraft transponder data to build an unprecedented view of jet fuel consumption in near-realtime, factoring in each individual flight across the US with additional data from partner FlightAware. In unprecedented times, new monitoring techniques are proving critical to eliminating the noise and getting to the bottom of what’s really happening on the ground.