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‘Welcome to Your Flight, Nathan.’ Traveling During a Pandemic Means Having the Plane to Yourself

With the huge decline in air travel, those still flying have plenty of room.  Maybe everyone was running late, Juan Grimaldo thought.

It was earlier this month at the Phoenix airport, and Mr. Grimaldo, 22, had just arrived at his gate. He had finished a stint working on a construction site and bought a cheap American Airlines ticket home to El Paso, Texas. He knew the coronavirus pandemic would keep most people at home, but there wasn’t another passenger in sight.

As he approached, the gate attendant greeted him by name. That was odd, he thought. He boarded, bemused. A sea of empty rows gaped. “Then it hit me,” he says. “I was the only one on the plane.”

To fly is an experience that upends a sense of space and time. In the wake of the coronavirus, with millions of Americans sheltering in place, that is truer than ever. Airports sit eerily empty, symbols of how the virus has devastated the economy and airlines in particular. Air passenger numbers are down a whopping 95%, according to U.S. government data, with many airline workers laid off or furloughed.

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Boeing CEO Sees Slow Recovery for Global Aviation

David Calhoun tells plane maker’s shareholders he doesn’t expect air travel to return to 2019 levels for two or three years

Air traffic may not bounce back for two or three years, Boeing Co. BA -0.23% Chief Executive David Calhoun said, outlining the tough outlook for global aviation to the plane maker’s shareholders on Monday.

“The health crisis is unlike anything we have ever experienced,” Mr. Calhoun said at the annual meeting. “It will be years before this returns to pre-pandemic levels.”

Mr. Calhoun laid out the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on the industry: Global airline revenues are set to drop by $314 billion this year. In the U.S., more than 2,800 planes are idled. Passenger demand is down 95% from last year.

“We are in an unpredictable and fast-changing environment, and it is difficult to estimate when the situation will stabilize,” he added. “But when it does, the commercial market will be smaller and our customers’ needs will be different.”

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Investors Are Bailing on Aircraft Leasing Funds

Investors in London Stock Exchange-listed funds enjoyed solid returns for years but as the global airline industry is pummeled by coronavirus, some of those investors are looking for the exits

So-called specialty aircraft-leasing funds have generated steady income for investors, but many are now bailing as dividend payments are suspended.

LONDON—The coronavirus pandemic has upended the airline industry, halting travel and grounding planes. Now, the sector’s pain is spreading to a little-known corner of the market where investors have enjoyed heady returns for years.

So-called specialty aircraft-leasing funds have generated income for investors hungry for yield. These funds buy jets from the likes of Boeing Co. BA 5.36% and Airbus SE and lease them to global air carriers such as Thai Airways International THAI 14.67% PCL and Emirates Airline.

In recent weeks, many of those investors have fled or incurred big paper losses as some London Stock Exchange -listed funds suspended dividend payments and held discussions with lenders to renegotiate payment schedules.

Two of the five LSE-listed aircraft funds have suspended dividend payments and share prices are down between 42% and 74% since mid-February.

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Coronavirus Pandemic Hits Plane Makers, Complicates 737 MAX Return

Airbus slashes production rates, including for A320, a rival to MAX

The crisis that has embroiled the world’s airlines is now hitting the industry’s biggest aircraft makers, Boeing Co. BA 5.25% and Airbus EADSY -2.37% SE, and further challenging Boeing’s efforts to return its 737 MAX to service.

Airbus said it was slashing production by about a third after booking just 21 net orders for jets in March and delivering 36 jets to customers, amid a flood of requests by customers to defer and cancel orders.

Underscoring the challenge for Boeing’s 737 MAX, Airbus said it was cutting its production of the MAX’s chief rival—the A320—to 40 a month, down from about 60 precrisis. Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said the company was working on “operational and financial mitigation measures to face reality” amid the coronavirus pandemic, including slashing spending and cutting costs at its plants.

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