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European aviation capacity recovery lacks impetus for next upward step

Analysis

The easing of international travel restrictions helped to drive Europe's capacity recovery in early summer 2021. Weekly seat capacity improved from 26% of 2019 levels in late Apr-2021 to 66% in early Aug-2021. However, the recovery has lost momentum over the past two months

Total seat numbers in Europe are now 33.0% below 2019 levels in the week of 4-Oct-2021. This is 67% of 2019 – barely changed from early Aug-2021, in spite of modest gains last week.

Europe remains in fourth place in the regional capacity recovery ranking. Asia Pacific, where seat capacity is down by 39.6% versus 2019, remains at the bottom. This week, week commencing 04-Oct-2021, The Middle East is down by 36.9%, Africa by 31.2%, Latin America by 23.7%, and North America by 19.7%.

There is a wide range in the pace of recovery among Europe's leading aviation markets.

Russia is at 89%, whereas the UK is at just 54% of 2019 seat levels. All appear to be fading in impetus to make the next significant upward step. The further easing of travel restrictions, for example as in the UK from 4-Oct-2021, has already been taken into account in airline schedules.

Summary

  • Europe has 22.6 million seats in the w/b 4-Oct-2021 – down 33% vs 33.7 million in the same week of 2019. Europe remains fourth behind N. America, LatAm and Africa.
  • Europe's 3Q2021 capacity was 64% of 2019's after 33% in 2Q2021. 4Q2021 capacity is projected at 73% of 2019 levels (but it was at 75% a week ago).
  • Russia is at 89% and Turkey at 84% of 2019 capacity, while the UK is at 54% and Germany at 57%. Spain is at 70%, which is the highest of leading W. European nations.

Europe has 22.6 million seats vs 33.7 million in 2019 – down 33%

In the week commencing 04-Oct-2021 total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 22.6 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations.

This is 33.0% below the 33.7 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019 and is 0.3ppts worse than last week's -32.7%. Last week's improvement in the trend has proved short-lived, and Europe's seat numbers have now been in a range of approximately -33% to -35% for 10 consecutive weeks.

This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 6.6 million domestic seats, versus 7.7 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 16.0 million international seats, versus 26.0 million.

Europe's domestic seats are down by 14.3% versus 2019, compared with last week's -12.5%.

International seat capacity is down by 38.6% versus 2019, compared with last week's -38.7%.

Europe: percentage change in weekly airline seat capacity vs equivalent week of 2019, weeks of 06-Jan-2020 to 27-Sep-2021

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Europe remains fourth among world regions by capacity as percentage of 2019 levels

Europe remains in fourth place in the ranking of regions measured by seats as a percentage of 2019 levels.

Asia Pacific is still the worst-performing region, with capacity down by 39.6% versus 2019 this week. The Middle East's seat count is down by 36.9%.

Africa's seat count is down by 31.2%, Latin America's by 23.7% and North America's by 19.7%.

North America, the Middle East and Latin America have taken upward steps in the trend this week, while Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa are broadly flat on last week.

Percentage change in passenger seat capacity vs 2019 by region, week of 30-Mar-2020 to week of 04-Oct-2021

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Europe's 4Q2021 capacity projection trimmed further to 73% of 2019 levels

According to data from OAG and CAPA, capacity as a percentage of 2019 levels has improved with each successive quarter of 2021. It was 27% in 1Q2021, 33% in 2Q2021 and 64% for 3Q2021.

Schedules filed for 4Q2021 project a further upward step to 73% of 4Q2019 levels.

However, this is down from 75% planned a week ago, and 81% planned a month ago.

Annual 2021 seat capacity for Europe is projected to be 51% of 2019 levels – only 9ppts better than the outturn of 42% of 2019 seats for 2020.

Russia is at 89% and Turkey at 84% of 2019 seat levels…

Europe's leading aviation nations have reached varying stages in the recovery of 2019 seat capacity levels. In general, those with larger domestic markets have recovered more quickly than those with only a small domestic market.

Layered onto this factor has also been the stringency of international travel restrictions and the pace of the lowering or removal of these restrictions.

In the week of 04-Oct-2021, Russia is at 89% of its capacity for the equivalent week of 2019, followed by Turkey, which is at 84%. They are both well ahead of the Europe average of 67%, boosted by their having the two largest domestic markets in Europe.

However, Russia has slipped back from a peak of 93% two weeks ago and Turkey is no higher than it was in mid Aug-2021.

…while the UK is at 54% and Germany at 57%

The two pre-crisis leading aviation nations before the coronavirus pandemic, the UK and Germany, are the weakest performers among the seven leading European markets. The UK is at 54% of seat numbers for the equivalent week of 2019 and Germany is at 57%.

For a long time the UK had some of the strictest travel restrictions in Western Europe and it also has a relatively small domestic market. These two factors have held it back.

Although the UK remains at the lowest percentage of 2019 capacity among Europe's leading markets, it has risen most rapidly over the past quarter as travel restrictions have eased. Throughout much of the same period, Europe overall has been on a plateau.

Germany has moved up modestly in the past two weeks, after a few weeks of sideways movement.

Spain is at 70% – the highest of leading W. European nations

Among the leading Western European nations, Spain has recovered most rapidly, reaching 71% of 2019 capacity this week. Italy is at 65% and France at 60%.

Italy has slipped back from its Aug-2021 peak of 68% of 2019 levels, while France is down from its 66% peak. Spain's trend has not varied significantly from the 70% mark for two months.

Europe's top seven aviation markets by seats: weekly capacity as a percentage of the equivalent week of 2019, weeks of 30-Dec-2019 to 04-Oct-2021

Europe's capacity recovery needs to regain momentum

The UK's further simplification and easing of international travel restrictions from 4-Oct-2021 are keeping it on an upward path, but its recovery has levelled off somewhat.

This seems to demonstrate that the easing of travel restrictions has been fully factored into Europe's airline schedules and the resultant capacity projections.

As has been the case throughout the crisis, schedules for future weeks and months have been created to keep airlines' options open. As the time has approached, capacity plans have consistently been trimmed. Even when capacity as a percentage of 2019 levels has continued to increase, it has done so at a slower pace than had been projected by earlier schedules.

Europe's aviation capacity recovery has lost momentum over the past two months. It needs a more global opening up of international borders, which needs more uniformly high rates of vaccination around the world. This will help Europe to take the next upward step in the capacity recovery.

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