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European aviation: positive signs, but COVID-19 third wave threatens

Premium Analysis

Europe's capacity trend has improved modestly. After nine weeks of bumping along between 74% and 75% below 2019 levels, seat count is down by 72.7% in the week of 22-Mar-2021. Hardly a convincing break out from the doldrums, but maybe a first positive step.

However, Europe remains well below other regions. Middle East seat count is down by 55.7% versus 2019, Africa by 52.8%, Latin America by 48.1%, North America by 39.1%, and Asia Pacific by 31.5%.

Looking ahead, positive signs can be detected.

Summer 2021 schedules have not been cut much since last week, and leisure travel bookings are reflecting hopes of resumed tourism from the UK (Europe's biggest pre-COVID aviation market and a big driver of tourism).

However, the UK's higher vaccination rates and lower infection rates than the rest of Europe have prompted caution among UK officials over the return of international travel on the intended date of 17-May-2021. Importing new variants of the coronavirus is still a risk.

Meanwhile, European harmonisation on facilitating cross border travel - even within the EU, let alone between the EU and the UK - remains essential. And, as a third wave strikes many parts of continental Europe, tourism may recede from being a top priority.

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