Europe's aircraft fleet in service falls as capacity slides
According to the CAPA Fleet Database, Europe's 3,520 passenger jets in service are 39% down year-on-year. Although three times the active fleet in the first lockdown at the end of Apr-2020, this is 14% down from the Aug-2020 recovery peak.
Europe's airline seat capacity is also underperforming the rest of the world. It is at only 25% of 2019 levels in the week of 25-Jan-2021, the lowest since Jun-2020. Seat capacity is down by more than active aircraft numbers, indicating depressed fleet utilisation.
Europe's LCCs have had a higher percentage of passenger jets in service than its legacy airlines since Jun-2020, but they cut this more heavily in the initial lockdown. Adjusting capacity to demand, often very rapidly, is much more embedded in the LCC mindset.
As national lockdowns continue and travel restrictions tighten, expect further near term cuts in Europe. Expect LCCs to lead the way when demand picks up.
- Europe has 6.8 million airline seats vs 26.9 million in the same week of 2019, down 75%. It has fallen more deeply than all other regions for 14 successive weeks.
- Europe's active passenger jet fleet numbers are falling again, and are below the world average as a percentage of total fleet.
- Europe's LCCs have a higher percentage of passenger jets in service than legacy airlines.
Europe has 6.8 million seats vs 26.9 million in 2019 – down 75%
In the week commencing 25-Jan-2021, total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 6.8 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations.
This is 74.6% below the 26.9 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019, is 1.1ppts worse than the previous week's 73.5% drop, and is the biggest percentage fall since Jun-2020. It is the 45th week of very heavy double digit percentage (more than 50%) declines in seats versus 2019.
This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 3.1 million domestic seats, versus 7.2 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 3.8 million international seats, versus 19.6 million.
Europe's domestic seats are down by 56.9% versus 2019, compared with last week's -56.9%.
International seat capacity is down by 80.8% versus 2019, compared with last week's -79.7%.
Europe: percentage change in weekly airline seat capacity vs equivalent week of 2019
Europe has spent 14 weeks in last place behind the other regions
For 14 weeks at the bottom of the regional league table ranked by the percentage decline in weekly seat numbers from 2019 levels, Europe is becoming further adrift from the other regions.
Africa has fallen back below the 50% level, after five weeks at or above it.
Percentage change in passenger seat capacity vs 2019 by region, week of 30-Mar-2020 to week of 25-Jan-2021
Europe's active passenger jet fleet is falling again…
Just as Europe's seat capacity has resumed a downward trend since Dec-2020, so too has the number of aircraft in service.
According to the CAPA Fleet Database, the number of passenger jets in service with European airlines fell from 5,759 at the end of Jan-2020 to just 1,183 at the end of Apr-2020, a drop of 79% as the first lockdown gripped the continent.
At the same time, the number of inactive passenger jets (parked or stored) rose from 563 to 5,125.
The number in service then recovered with the easing of national lockdowns and some relaxing of travel restrictions, reaching 4,076 at the end of Aug-2020. This was still 29% below the number in service at the end of Jan-2020, but has so far turned out to be a peak in the recovery phase.
Numbers in service declined until the end of Nov-2020, as restrictions tightened once more, before rising briefly in Dec-2020 as vaccine hopes grew and the UK partially eased its quarantine rules.
Rising COVID-19 case numbers, new strains of the virus, and newly introduced lockdowns have prompted another decline in the number of passenger jets in service with European airlines, from 3,706 at the end of Dec-2020 to 3,520 at 26-Jan-2021.
Europe: number of passenger jets* in service and inactive at month end, Jan-2020 to Jan-2021**
…and is below the world average as a percentage of total fleet
As a percentage of the total number of passenger jets, the number in service in Europe has underperformed against the world average throughout most of the crisis, with the exception of the peak summer 2020 period.
Passenger jets in service in Europe fell to 19% at the end of Apr-2020, compared with a global average of 37%. As at 26-Jan-2021, 56% are in service in Europe, while 65% of the worldwide fleet of passenger jets are in service.
Moreover, Europe's figure has fallen from its end Aug-2020 peak of 65%, whereas the world average has been broadly stable since then.
Percentage of passenger jets* in service at month end, Jan-2020 to Jan-2021**
Europe's LCCs have a higher percentage of passenger jets in service than legacy airlines
Europe's LCCs have had a higher percentage of jets in service than their legacy counterparts since emerging from the first lockdown in summer 2020, according to data from the CAPA Fleet Database.
Although LCCs cut back more heavily, to just 10% (versus 22% for legacies) at the end of Apr-2020, they recovered to 76% (61% for legacies) at the end of Aug-2020.
LCCs have 58% of their jets in service at 26-Jan-2021, now only slightly more than legacy airlines' 56%.
The more rapid expansion and contraction of LCC fleets in service indicates their greater flexibility in entering and exiting markets as demand conditions change.
Europe: percentage of passenger jets* in service at month end, Jan-2020 to Jan-2021**
Expect further near term cuts in Europe; LCCs to lead when demand picks up
In the near term, the prospects for Europe's airline seat capacity and numbers of aircraft in service remain challenging.
In addition, the UK is planning to mandate quarantine in hotels for arrivals of UK nationals, at their expense, from countries deemed to be higher risk. This would be a much greater deterrent to international travel than the current system of self-isolation at home.
Airlines are planning further schedule cuts. According to schedules filed with OAG and seat data from CAPA, Jan-2021 seat numbers are now projected at 29.3% of 2019 levels, down from Dec-2020's 31.9%.
Feb-2021 is currently projected at 29.6%, stable on Jan-2021, but capacity for every month of the pandemic so far has turned out lower than projected at the end of the previous month (even for the summer 2020 recovery months from Jun-2020 to Aug-2020).
Expect further near term cuts to European airline capacity and active fleets. When demand does start to pick up, expect low cost airlines to lead the way.