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European aviation: 2022 should end better than it has started

Analysis

Annual seat capacity for Europe in 2021 improved by 18.0% from 2020, but was down by 49.6% from 2019 levels. This reduction from pre-COVID capacity was again the heaviest percentage fall among world regions.

Weekly capacity levels have undergone increased volatility since the spread of the Omicron variant towards the latter part of 2021. Europe reached a pandemic era peak in the last week of Dec-2021, when capacity was only 18.7% below the equivalent week of 2019.

However, in the week of 10-Jan-2022 Europe has plunged to 38.0% below 2019 seat numbers, from -21.4% a week earlier. This returns it to the bottom of the regional rankings on this measure for the first time since late Jun-2021. Seat capacity is down by 33.2% in Africa, by 29.5% in Asia Pacific, by 29.2% in the Middle East, by 14.2% in North America, and by 11.9% in Latin America.

Nevertheless, there are grounds for optimism that – as in 2021 – 2022 will end better than it started. The world will need to get used to living with COVID-19 in 2022.

Summary

  • Europe's airline capacity in 2021 was again down more heavily versus 2019 than in any other region. Europe remained third largest region by seats.
  • In the week of 10-Jan-2022 Europe's capacity is down 38% vs 2019 – more than in any other world region.
  • 1Q2022 capacity is projected at 80% of 2019 levels.

Europe's 2021 percentage fall from 2019 capacity was again the heaviest of all world regions

Annual seat capacity for Europe in 2021 was down by 49.6% from 2019 levels, according to schedules from OAG combined with CAPA Fleet Database seat configurations. This was an improvement on 2020, when capacity was 57.7% below 2019.

However, as in 2020, Europe's 2021 percentage fall from 2019 levels was the heaviest of all world regions

Compared with 2019 capacity, annual seat numbers in 2021 were down by 46.0% in the Middle East, 40.7% in Africa, 38.2% in Asia Pacific, 32.3% in Latin America, and by 28.1% in North America.

With the exception of Asia Pacific, all regions narrowed the decline versus 2019 in 2021 compared with 2020. Asia Pacific's annual capacity remained virtually unchanged in 2021 from 2020.

Percentage change in annual passenger seat capacity vs 2019 levels, 2020 and 2021

 

Europe remained the third largest region by seats in 2021

Europe's 2021 capacity of 836 million seats was 19.0% higher than in 2020 but kept it in third place among world regions.

Asia Pacific remained the biggest region by annual seat numbers, as it was before the pandemic.

North America, which had been the number three region by annual seats in 2019, jumped into second place ahead of Europe in 2020 and retained the number two spot in 2021.

Whereas Europe's capacity had been 18% higher than North America's in 2019, it was 9% smaller in 2020 and 17% smaller in 2021.

Annual passenger seat capacity by region: 2019, 2020 and 2021

 

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Europe's capacity as percentage of 2019's improved through 2021

Europe's seat capacity as a percentage of 2019 levels improved with each successive quarter of 2021.

It was 27% in 1Q2021, 34% in 2Q2021, 64% in 3Q2021 and 71% in 4Q2021.

Capacity for each quarter of the year was consistently lower than was scheduled ahead of time. Comparing capacity scheduled a month before the start of each quarter with the final outcome shows a cut over this time frame of 30ppts for 1Q2021, 31ppts for 2Q2021, 10ppts for 3Q2021 and 11ppts for 4Q2021.

Europe: projected seat capacity as a percentage of equivalent quarter of 2019 one month before quarter start and at quarter start, with final outcome, 2Q2020 to 1Q2022

 

Europe now has 17.0 million weekly seats vs 27.5 million in 2019 – down 38%

In the week commencing 10-Jan-2022, total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 17.0 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations.

This is 38.0% below the 27.5 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019. This is a 16.6ppt deterioration from last week's -21.4% and 19.3ppts worse than the pandemic era peak of -18.7% two weeks ago.

This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 5.3 million domestic seats, versus 7.2 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 11.8 million international seats, versus 20.3 million.

Europe's domestic seats are down by 26.7% versus 2019, compared with -7.2% last week.

International seat capacity is down by 42.0% versus 2019, compared with last week's -25.8%.

Europe: percentage change in weekly airline seat capacity vs equivalent week of 2019, weeks commencing 06-Jan-2020 to 03-Jan-2022

 

Europe is now last among regions by capacity as percentage of 2019's

This week's slide in capacity has taken Europe to the bottom in the ranking of world regions measured by seats as a percentage of 2019 levels.

Seat capacity is down by 33.2% in Africa, by 29.5% in Asia Pacific, by 29.2% in the Middle East, by 14.2% in North America, and by 11.9% in Latin America.

Asia Pacific is broadly flat on last week as a percentage of 2019 capacity, but all other regions have taken downward steps this week

Percentage change in passenger seat capacity vs 2019 by region, week of 30-Mar-2020 to week of 10-Jan-2022

 

Europe's 1Q2022 capacity is projected at 80% of 2019 levels

Projections for 1Q2022 based on current schedules indicate seat numbers for Europe at 80% of 1Q2019 levels.

This is down by 1ppt since last week and by 8ppts compared with a month before the start of the quarter. This would still represent a significant upward step from 4Q2021's 71% if there were no further cuts.

Projections for Apr-2022 and May-2022 are currently at more than 90% of 2019 levels.

2022 needs to be the year when the world gets used to living with COVID-19

The rollout of vaccination programmes means that aviation – in Europe and globally – is starting 2022 in a much better position than at the beginning of 2021.

However, the sharp rise in COVID-19 case numbers since late 2021, resulting from the Omicron variant, has lowered activity in recent weeks.

The key issue for aviation in 2022 will be the extent to which governments and populations grow used to living with COVID-19.

Some recent reductions in temporary travel restrictions imposed to control the Omicron variant have helped. Moreover, signs that the variant's impact on hospitalisations and deaths may not be as high as previous variants – thanks largely to vaccination – give cause for some optimism.

Just as 2021 ended better than it began for aviation in Europe, there is every reason to believe that 2022 should also end better than it began.

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