Why are planes still flying?

Many day to day activities, including airplane activity, have changed abruptly over the last few weeks, leaving some wondering why planes are continuing to fly despite current events. When Governor Walz issued Executive Order 20-20 directing Minnesotans to stay at home to slow the spread of COVID-19, he stipulated that transportation activities, like aviation, are approved and allowable to continue.  

Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has required airports remain open and accessible. Airports are essential to the national transportation system, so airlines must maintain scheduled air transportation service to ensure connectivity for essential travel. Aircraft are also continuing to transport cargo, mail, and medical equipment and personnel. 

Measures are in place to minimize the risk from COVID-19 at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), including extra cleaning and disinfection, particularly at high touchpoints, and additional hand sanitizer stations throughout the airport. MSP airlines and partners are following CDC’s COVID-19 prevention guidance, which includes incorporating social distancing measures.   

While airplanes are continuing to fly, the number of aircraft operating out of MSP and our six reliever airports has changed.

MSP Airport  

Compared to April last year, there are approximately 70 percent fewer airplanes flying in and out of MSP. Over the past few weeks, the number of flights at MSP has dropped to often below 400 a day. However, while passenger flights have decreased, cargo flights in April increased by about one percent.  

In addition to the number of planes flying, there are also changes to how runways are being used. Currently, the parallel runways (12L/R and 30L/R) are being used most of the time. Runway 17/35 is used infrequently and only when required by certain weather conditions. Runway 4/22 is closed for scheduled maintenance unrelated to COVID-19.  

This level of aircraft activity is not typical for MSP and communities should be aware that airplane activity is expected to slowly rebound as airlines continue to adjust their operations based on passenger demand.   

MAC Reliever Airports 

With fair weather brings flight training and this time of year is the typical start of flight training season at our reliever airports, which include Airlake, Anoka-Blaine, Crystal, Flying Cloud, Lake Elmo and Downtown Saint Paul.   

The number of airplanes operating at these airports might be impacted more by weather than current events. On a calm, sunny day, the number of airplanes using these airports might look fairly similar to this time last year.  However, compared to April last year, there are almost 30 percent fewer flights operating out of our reliever airports.  

The MAC FlightTracker is a great resource for viewing details about flight activity throughout the Twin Cities airspace: www.macnoise.com/flighttracker. As always, MAC staff continue to be available to assist with questions about specific flight activity.