US airlines have added some 250 passenger aircraft to their active-service fleets in recent months, moving jets out of storage and taking delivery of new aircraft as travel demand seems to be rebounding.

With the additions, US major and regional airlines now operate about 5,060 passenger aircraft, or 80% of their combined fleet, according to Cirium fleets data.

Allegiant first new A320 Credit: Airbus

Source: Airbus

The other 20% of the fleet – some 1,300 aircraft – remain in storage, Cirium shows.

By comparison, US airlines had about 4,800 passenger aircraft flying at the start of 2021. They were flying only about half the combined fleet – some 3,000 aircraft – in mid-April 2020, shortly after governments worldwide implemented lockdowns and travel restrictions.

The fleet additions came ahead of what airline chief executives are describing as a notable rebound of air travel demand. In recent days, CEOs reported that March travel demand was notably stronger than anticipated, and that a recovery seemed underway.

On 15 March, Southwest Airlines’ chief executive Gary Kelly said the “beginning of the end” of the crisis appeared at hand.

“We are getting really close to 2019 numbers,” Delta Air Lines’ CEO Ed Bastian said the same day.

The carriers also reported they were nearing break-even cash flows.

Data shows that US low-cost and ultra-low-cost airlines have returned a significantly larger share of their fleets back into service than have the USA’s three large network airlines.

As of mid-March, Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines and Sun Country Airlines are each flying more than 90% of the jets in their fleets, Cirium shows.

That trend makes sense. Those airlines primarily cater to leisure travellers and, perhaps with the exception of Hawaiian, operate networks heavily skewed to short- and medium-haul domestic flights. Airline executives have said the recent bump in demand has been driven by leisure, domestic travel.

By comparison, American Airlines and Delta each have about 80% of their jets in service, while United Airlines is operating about 70% of its fleet, Cirium shows.

Major US carriers, in-service fleets
  Aircraft in service Percent of total fleet
Alaska Airlines 182 76%
Allegiant Air 100 91%
American Airlines 754 80%
Delta Air Lines 690 78%
Frontier Airlines 100 96%
Hawaiian Airlines 56 92%
JetBlue Airways 252 93%
Southwest Airlines 631 84%
Spirit Airlines 137 87%
Sun Country Airlines 31 100%
United Airlines 587 69%
Total 3520 80%
Source: Cirium fleets data

US regional carriers have returned aircraft to service at varying rates.

Air Wisconsin, Horizon Air, Piedmont Airlines, PSA Airlines, Republic Airways and Silver Airways each have more than 90% of their aircraft flying. But CommutAir has only one-third of its 169 ERJ-145s in service, while 60% of Endeavor Air’s CRJs are flying, data shows.

US regional airlines, in-service fleets
  Aircraft in service Percent of fleet
Air Wisconsin 64 100%
CommutAir 55 33%
Endeavor Air 151 60%
Envoy Air 156 74%
GoJet Airlines 36 86%
Horizon Air 60 94%
Mesa Airlines 126 79%
Piedmont Airlines 57 98%
PSA Airlines 127 89%
Ravn Alaska 9 90%
Republic Airways 214 97%
Silver Airways 10 100%
SkyWest Airlines 473 83%
Total 1538 78%
Source: Cirium fleets data

The pandemic also claimed three regional airlines – ExpressJet Airlines and Trans States Holdings’ subsidiaries Compass Airlines and Trans States Airlines folded last year.