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European aviation: Wizz Air & Ryanair exceed pre-crisis fleets

Analysis

Europe has undergone a capacity slump since the end of 2021, prompted by increased travel restrictions in response to rising COVID-19 case numbers.

Seat numbers for Europe are 39.9% below 2019 levels in the week of 17-Jan-2022. This represents a decline of 2.0ppts over the week of 10-Jan-2022 and 21.3ppts over the past three weeks.

Europe is still at the bottom of the regional capacity recovery ranking.

Africa capacity is down by 33.6%, Asia Pacific by 30.5%, the Middle East by 28.8%, Latin America by 15.8%, and North America by 12.6%.

However, there are already signs that travel restrictions are easing as confidence grows that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is not leading to a commensurate increase in hospitalisations and deaths. This is good news for airline bookings and capacity.

Nevertheless, analysis of data from the CAPA Fleet Database still shows that Europe's total fleet has not yet recovered its pre-crisis size, particularly if only aircraft in service are counted. The leading exceptions are the ultra-LCCs Wizz Air and Ryanair, both of which now have bigger fleets than before the pandemic.

Summary

  • Europe has 16.1 million seats this week 17-Jan-2022, down 40% vs 26.8 million in the same week of 2019. Europe is bottom in the regional ranking on this measure.
  • Europe's 1Q2022 capacity is projected at 79% of 2019 levels, down from 80% in the week of 10-Jan-2022 and 89% two months ago.
  • The European capacity slump may be temporary as travel restrictions ease.
  • Wizz Air and Ryanair have grown their fleets from before the crisis, whereas the total Europe fleet remains smaller than pre-pandemic levels.

Europe has 16.1 million seats vs 26.8 million in 2019, down 40%

In the week commencing 17-Jan-2022 total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 16.1 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations.

This is 39.9% below the 26.8 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019. This is also 2.0ppts worse than the week of 10-Jan-2022 and 21.3ppts down from a pandemic era high of -18.7% in the final week of December 2021.

This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 5.2 million domestic seats, versus 7.2 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 10.9 million international seats, versus 19.6 million.

Europe's domestic seats are down by 28.1% versus 2019, compared with -26.7% last week.

International seat capacity is down by 44.3% versus 2019, versus last week's -42.0%.

Europe: percentage change in weekly airline seat capacity vs equivalent week of 2019, weeks of 06-Jan-2020 to 17-Jan-2022

 

Europe remains last among world regions by capacity as percentage of 2019's

Europe slumped to the bottom of the ranking of regions measured by seats as a percentage of 2019 levels in the week of 10-Jan-2022 and remains there this week.

With capacity down by 39.9%, Europe is 6.3ppts worse than Africa, where capacity is down by 33.6%. Asia Pacific seat count is down by 30.5%; capacity is down by 28.8% in the Middle East, by 15.8% in Latin America, and by 12.6% in North America.

North America has taken an upward step in the trend this week 17-Jan-2022, whereas Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific have taken downward steps.

Africa and Middle East are broadly flat on the week of 10-Jan-2022.

Percentage change in passenger seat capacity vs 2019 by region, week of 30-Mar-2020 to week of 17-Jan-2022

 

Europe's 1Q2022 capacity is projected at 79% of 2019 levels, vs 80% in the week of 10-Jan-2022 and 89% two months ago

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.

Schedules for 1Q2022 currently project seats at 79% of 1Q2019 levels: this is down from 80% projected in the week of 10-Jan-2022 and compares with 89% projected eight weeks ago.

European capacity slump may be temporary as travel restrictions ease

The rapid decline in Europe's seat capacity as a percentage of 2019 levels since late Dec-2021 reflects increased travel restrictions as a result of concerns over rising COVID-19 case numbers due to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

However, there have been some signs that the increased level of restrictions is easing as evidence grows that the number of hospitalisations and deaths caused by Omicron has not risen as much as case numbers, particularly among the vaccinated.

This adds to confidence that the slump in European capacity will be temporary.

Indeed, some European operators have noted a rapid uptick in aviation demand as travel restrictions have eased.

EasyJet has reported strong increases in bookings

For example, on 7-Jan-2022 easyJet reported an increase in UK bookings by almost 200% compared to the same time in the previous week, when the UK removed a pre-departure testing requirement for passengers entering the UK.

On 14 Jan-2022 easyJet experienced a 600% uplift in last-minute UK bookings to ski resorts in France, after the French government moved to reopen its borders to vaccinated travellers from the UK.

Wizz Air is comfortably above its pre-crisis fleet size

Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi has even suggested that the Omicron variant could be the end of the COVID-19 crisis. Echoing the conclusion of a CAPA Analysis report of 12-Jan-2022, Mr Varadi told Bloomberg on 13-Jan-2022 his "personal expectation is that we have a lot better year on front of us than the years behind us".

See related report: European aviation: 2022 should end better than it has started

Wizz Air is going further than almost any other European airline in backing this optimistic view, since its fleet is now bigger than it was before the pandemic.

At the end of Feb-2019 Wizz Air Group had 108 aircraft in its fleet, all of which were in service. According to the CAPA Fleet Database, the group has 145 aircraft, with 144 in service, as at 17-Jan-2022. According to Wizz Air's last results presentation on 4-Nov-2021, it aims to have 150 aircraft at the end of Mar-2022 and 178 at the end of Mar-2023.

Wizz Air Group: fleet numbers at month end, Jan-2019 to Jan-2022*

 

Ryanair's fleet is also above pre-pandemic size

Ryanair Group also now has more aircraft than before the pandemic, but has not grown by the same degree as Wizz Air Group. According to the CAPA Fleet Database, Ryanair Group had 456 aircraft (455 in service) at the end of Feb-2019 and has 459 (457 in service) as at 17-Jan-2022.

Ryanair Group: fleet numbers at month end, Jan-2019 to Jan-2022*

 

Other leading LCCs have not yet grown fleet in service

Other leading independent European LCCs have grown their total fleet, but not their fleet in service, since before the pandemic.

EasyJet Group has grown its total fleet from 318 to 322 aircraft over the same time frame, but it now has only 266 in service (whereas all 318 were in service at the end of Feb-2019).

Jet2.com has grown its total fleet from 87 to 90 aircraft over this time frame, but it now has only 78 in service (whereas all 87 were in service at the end of Feb-2019).

The other independent LCC of note, Norwegian, has shrunk its fleet considerably from 157 (155 in service) at the end of Feb-2019 to 69 (51 in service) at 17-Jan-2022.

Total European fleet is still below pre-crisis levels…

According to the CAPA Fleet Database, the total fleet of European operators was 8,280 at the end of Feb-2019 and it is 8,108 at 17-Jan-2022. The number in service has fallen from 7,906 to 7,057.

All European operators: fleet numbers at month end, Jan-2019 to Jan-2022*

 

…highlighting Wizz Air & Ryanair's leading role in recovery

The figures and chart above demonstrate that Europe as a whole has not yet recovered its pre-pandemic fleet.

By contrast, Wizz Air and Ryanair's fleet growth continues to highlight their role in leading European aviation in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

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