Europe aviation: don't expect 2019 capacity levels before 2024 or 2025
Projections for Europe's seat capacity in 4Q2022 derived from current airline schedules anticipate no change from the narrow range of 86%-87% of 2019 levels that has persisted almost every week since late May-2022.
Schedules for 1Q2023 project this stepping up to 90%, but there is currently no obvious spark that will catalyse such a move, and the capacity recovery could very well continue to be range-bound.
In the week of 24-Oct-2022 seat numbers are at 86.6%, which is a shortfall of 13.4% against the equivalent week in 2019.
Given operational constraints and economic concerns, it seems reasonable to conjecture that a return to 2019 levels of capacity may not occur in Europe until 2024 or 2025. Indeed, EUROCONTROL's Oct-2022 update for flight numbers anticipates movements above 2019 levels only in 2025.
- Europe has 28.5 million seats this week, down 13% vs 32.9 million in the same week of 2019; Europe is fifth in the regional ranking on this measure.
- Europe's 1Q2022 capacity was at 74% of 2019 levels, 2Q2022 at 84%, and 3Q2022 at 87% – which is the same level as is projected for 4Q2022.
- Full year 2022 is projected at 82% of 2019 capacity. A return to 2019 levels of capacity may not occur until 2024 or 2025.
- EUROCONTROL's Oct-2022 base case forecasts flight numbers above 2019 levels only in 2025.
Europe has 28.5 million seats vs 32.9 million this week in 2019, down 13%
In the week commencing 24-Oct-2022 total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 28.5 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations.
This is 13.4% below the 32.9 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019, barely changed from last week's -13.5%. With the exception of a single week in late Aug-2022, when this measure reached was -11.4%, Europe's recovery has been broadly in the range of 13% to 14% below 2019 levels since late May-2022.
This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 6.8 million domestic seats, versus 7.6 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 21.7 million international seats, versus 25.3 million.
Europe's domestic seats are down by 10.4% versus 2019, compared with last week's -9.8%.
International seat capacity is down by 14.3% versus 2019, compared with last week's -14.5%.
Europe: percentage change in weekly airline seat capacity vs equivalent week of 2019, week of 06-Jan-2020 to week of 24-Oct-2022
Europe remains fifth in the regional ranking by capacity as percentage of 2019's
Europe stays in fifth place in the ranking of regions measured by seats as a percentage of 2019 levels this week.
Capacity is down by 7.7% in North America and by 5.4% in Africa. Latin America's seat numbers are just 0.2% below the equivalent week of 2019, Latin America having briefly become the first region to rise above its pre-pandemic capacity last week.
Percentage change in passenger seat capacity vs 2019 by region, week of 30-Mar-2020 to week of 24-Oct-2022
Europe's 4Q2022 capacity is projected at 87% of 2019 levels (no change from 3Q2022 actual)
It was 27% in 1Q2021, 34% in 2Q2021, 64% in 3Q2021 and 71% in 4Q2021.
The improvement has continued in 2022 so far, albeit at a slowing rate. Capacity for 1Q2022 was 74% of 1Q2019 levels, while 2Q2022 was at 84% and 3Q2022 was at 87%.
Looking at 4Q2022, the projection is 86.6%, which is only slightly down from 86.7% last week. This is almost the same as the 3Q outturn (very fractionally below 3Q's 86.8%, in fact), and a further reminder that the capacity recovery's momentum is waning.
Full year 2022 is projected at 82% of 2019 capacity
If 4Q2022 seat capacity projections remain at their current level, the full calendar year 2022 will end up at 82% of 2019. This is a significant step up from 50% of 2019 for 2021 and 42% for 2020.
However, the total of 1.366 billion seats currently projected for 2022 would be only a little above Europe's total capacity of 2015, i.e. almost seven years of lost growth.
Europe: annual seat capacity/growth, 2012 to 2023* (projected)
A return to 2019 levels of capacity may not occur until 2024 or 2025
Current schedules filed with OAG, together with CAPA seat configuration data, project 1Q2023 stepping up to just short of 90% of 1Q2019 seat numbers.
If this 90% level continued across all of 2023, the full year total would be 1.494 billion seats, very close to the 2017 total, i.e. narrowing the gap to six years.
However, the trend of recent quarters is that projections have fallen by a few percentage points across the two months before the start of the quarter.
Although there is no certainty this pattern will repeat itself, there has been no sign of a catalyst to push the trend beyond the level it has occupied since May-2022
If the c.87% level of the past five months were to continue across 2023, the annual total next year would be 1.445 billion seats – only slightly more than 2016's total and remaining nearly seven years behind the pre-COVID trend.
From today's standpoint, with operational constraints and economic concerns continuing to limit the recovery, a return to 2019 levels of capacity may not occur until 2024 or 2025.
EUROCONTROL's Oct-2022 base case forecasts flight numbers above 2019 levels only in 2025
This conclusion is shared by EUROCONTROL's Oct-2022 seven-year forecast update, which does not anticipate 2019 levels being exceeded until 2025.
It is measuring the number of flights, rather than seats, and so the percentages are different, but EUROCONTROL's base case forecasts flight numbers at 84% of 2019 levels in 2022, 92% in 2023, 98% in 2024 and 101% in 2025.
Actual and forecast flight movements: 2019 to 2028
As previously suggested by CAPA, economic concerns are weighing on the capacity recovery, while operational constraints continue to play a role.
See related CAPA report: Europe aviation: it's the economy, not COVID, weighing on the recovery