Loading

European aviation moves into the post-pandemic era

Analysis

Europe's capacity recovery from COVID-19, expressed as a percentage of 2019 levels, has been tracking sideways for almost three months. Moreover, airline schedules filed with OAG currently indicate that the rest of 2022 is projected to remain at a similar level of around 87%.

However, the 4Q2022 schedule has grown modestly since last week (from 86% to 87%), which is the first time an increase has happened for a future quarter since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Europe's total seat capacity is at 87.3% in the week commencing 15-Aug-2022, or a shortfall of 12.7% against the equivalent week in 2019. Europe remains fourth in the regional ranking, above Asia Pacific, where capacity is down by 21.3% versus 2019, and the Middle East, where capacity is down by 13.3%. North America capacity is down by 10.0%, Africa by 9.1%, and Latin America is down by 4.8%.

The main issue now keeping Europe from making the next upward step in the capacity recovery is the staff recruitment bottleneck and other supply chain constraints.

Concerns over COVID-19's direct impact on demand have faded: European aviation is now largely post-pandemic.

Summary

  • Europe has 32.3 million seats this week, down 13% vs 36.9 million in the same week of 2019. Europe is fourth in the regional ranking on this measure.
  • Europe's 1Q2022 capacity was at 74% of 2019 levels and its 2Q2022 was at 84%.
  • 3Q2022 is projected at 87%, and 4Q2022 has been raised from 86% to 87%.
  • Data on COVID-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations now seem less important to aviation's recovery, now that it has reached an 'acceptable level'.
  • COVID-19 restrictions have fallen away in Europe, but less so in Asia Pacific.

Europe has 32.3 million seats vs 36.9 million this week in 2019, down 13%

In the week commencing 15-Aug-2022, total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 32.3 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations.

This is 12.7% below the 36.9 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019 and a slight improvement of 0.2ppts from last week's (week of 08-Aug-2022) -12.7%.

Europe has been stuck in a narrow range between -12.5% and -14.4% since late May-2022, a period of 13 weeks.

This week's level of -12.7% is the second best week of the pandemic era on this measure. This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 7.7 million domestic seats, versus 8.1 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 24.5 million international seats, versus 28.9 million.

Europe's domestic seats are down by 4.1% versus 2019, equal with the past two weeks as the strongest performance for the domestic market since before the pandemic.

International seat capacity is down by 15.1% versus 2019, compared with last week's -15.3%, and only a little short of its best pandemic era level of -14.6% in late May-2022.

Europe: percentage change in weekly airline seat capacity vs equivalent week of 2019, weeks of 06-Jan-2020 to 15-Aug-2022

 

Europe remains fourth in the regional ranking by capacity as percentage of 2019's

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

With capacity down by 12.7%, Europe is 8.6ppts better than sixth placed Asia Pacific, where capacity is down by 21.3%, and is 0.6ppts above the Middle East, where seat count is down by 13.3%. Capacity is down by 10.0% in North America, by 9.1% in Africa, and by 4.8% in Latin America.

Middle East has taken an upward step in the trend this week, whereas Latin America has taken a downward step.

Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and Africa are broadly stable on last week.

Percentage change in passenger seat capacity vs 2019 by region, week of 30-Mar-2020 to week of 15-Aug-2022

717" height="409" /> 

Europe's 3Q2022 is projected at 87%...

According to data from OAG and CAPA, Europe's 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.

The improvement is continuing in 2022 so far. Capacity for 1Q2022 was 74% of 1Q2019 levels and 2Q2022 was at 84% of 2Q2019 levels.

Projections for 3Q2022 are at 87.1% of 3Q2019 seat numbers, which is unchanged from last week (08-Aug-2022).

…and 4Q2022 has been raised from 86% to 87%

Looking ahead to 4Q2022, the projection has been increased to 87.0% from 86.0% last week.

This is an almost unprecedented example in the pandemic era of future schedules being increased.

Over the past few months schedules for the rest of 2022 have been trimmed to bring them in line with the 86% to 87% range of the past 13 weeks. Capacity projected for 4Q2022 remains within this range, but the small increase raises the prospect that the final quarter of the year could break out above this range.

In absolute terms 4Q typically offers less capacity than 3Q, so there is certainly scope for 4Q2022 to operate at a higher percentage of 2019 levels than 3Q2022.

Indeed, 4Q2022 could be at 100% of 4Q2019 capacity and would still be 7% below the capacity currently scheduled for 3Q2022.

In other words, if the staffing and infrastructure currently in place to operate 3Q2022 capacity levels can be maintained in 4Q2022, then the final quarter of the year could comfortably exceed its pre-pandemic seat capacity.

Of course, seasonal patterns mean that 4Q2022 demand is likely to be below current levels. Moreover, there is some seasonality in staffing levels, with some temporary workers recruited only for the summer.

Data on COVID-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations are less important now

For much of the period since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic data on coronavirus cases, deaths and vaccinations were very closely tracked metrics by aviation-watchers.

The assumption was that the decline in the pandemic, brought about by the increase in vaccinations, would be accompanied by an increase in capacity back to pre-pandemic (i.e. 2019) levels.

This was borne out, although the relationship was never linear. The relationship now seems very weak indeed.

Vaccination levels in most of Europe are now more or less as high as they are likely to be, with little further upward movement in the curve.

Share of people with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Dec-2020 to Aug-2022

 

Case numbers and deaths, while not at their absolute lowest, are towards the lower end of the range that they have occupied during the pandemic.

 Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths per million people*, Mar-2020 to Aug-2022

 

It seems that there is an unspoken consensus that the incidence of the virus, and deaths due to it, have reached an acceptable level.

COVID-19 restrictions have fallen away in Europe, but less so in Asia Pacific

This is also reflected in the drop in the so-called 'Stringency Index', which is a measure of government restrictions on daily life in response to COVID-19. In most leading European nations this index is broadly back to pre-pandemic levels.

Again, the message is that society – not just aviation – is living with the disease with little, if any, impact on everyday activities.

The Stringency Index has remained higher in a number of large Asia Pacific nations.

COVID-19 Stringency Index* for selected countries, Mar-2020 to Aug-2022

 

Higher levels of COVID-19 restrictions in parts of Asia have limited the recovery in Europe-Asia Pacific aviation traffic to just 50% of its 2019 capacity, compared with 87% for all Europe capacity.

See related report: Europe's long haul aviation recovery is being held back by Asia Pacific

However, even if Europe-Asia Pacific capacity was back to 100%, this would only take total Europe capacity to 90%.

European aviation is in the post-COVID era

Apart from the impact of Asia Pacific restrictions on Europe's aviation recovery, there may be some residual impact on demand as a result of lingering fears surrounding COVID-19.

However, such concerns have largely faded in the minds of the travelling public and their effect is now minor.

The key limiting factors now preventing Europe from reaching 100% of 2019 capacity levels now seem to be its ability to recruit sufficient staff, and other constraints on aviation's supply chain. This is a secondary effect of the pandemic, but the disease itself is no longer a significant factor in Europe's capacity recovery.

In that sense, it seems that European aviation has largely moved into the post-COVID era.

Want More Analysis Like This?

CAPA Membership provides access to all news and analysis on the site, along with access to many areas of our comprehensive databases and toolsets.
Find Out More