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Europe's aviation capacity now 88% of 2019 levels; schedules stabilise

Analysis

Europe's aviation capacity recovery from the COVID-19 crisis has reached another new high after three successive weeks of increases in seat numbers as a percentage of the equivalent week of 2019.

Europe's seat capacity has reached 87.5% of 2019 levels in the week commencing 30-May-2022, or in other terms – a shortfall of 12.5% compared with the equivalent week 2019. This is its best performance on this measure since before the crisis.

Europe has moved above Middle East into fourth in the regional ranking, also above Asia Pacific, where capacity is down by -35.7%. Middle East capacity is down by -15.6%, while North America capacity is down by -9.0%, Africa by -5.5%, and at the top of the ranking: Latin America by -4.7%.

There are signs that capacity projections for Europe are becoming more stable, but also that the capacity recovery may level out in 3Q2022 (as a percentage of 2019 levels). Moreover, the passenger traffic recovery is still behind the seat capacity recovery in Europe, but the gap appears to be closing.

Summary

  • Europe has 29.8 million seats this week, which is down -12% vs 34.1 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; 2Q2022 is projected at 85% and 3Q2022 at 91%.
  • Capacity projections are becoming more stable, but the capacity recovery may level out in 3Q2022.
  • The passenger traffic recovery still lags the capacity recovery, but the gap is closing.

Europe has 29.8 million seats vs 34.1 million this week in 2019, down -12%

In the week commencing 30-May-2022, total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 29.8 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations.

This is -12.5% below the 34.1 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019 and is an improvement of 0.9ppts compared with last week. It is Europe's strongest week on this measure since before the pandemic, after three consecutive weeks of improvement.

This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 7.4 million domestic seats, versus 7.8 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 22.4 million international seats, versus 26.3 million.

Europe's domestic seats are down by -5.3% versus 2019, compared with last week's -9.3%. This is almost back to the -5.1% reached in late Dec-2021, which was the domestic market's best week on this measure since before the pandemic.

International seat capacity is down by -14.6% versus 2019 – the strongest week on this measure since before the pandemic, although only fractionally better than last week (23-May-2022), when capacity was -14.7%.

Europe: percentage change in weekly airline seat capacity vs equivalent week of 2019, weeks of 06-Jan-2020 to 23-May-2022

 

Europe is fourth in the regional ranking by capacity as percentage of 2019

Europe has moved above the Middle East into fourth place in the ranking of regions measured by seats as a percentage of 2019 levels this week.

With capacity down by -12.5%, Europe is 20.1ppts better than sixth placed Asia Pacific, where capacity is down by -35.7%, and 3.1ppts above the Middle East, where seat count is down by -15.6%.

Capacity is down by -9.0% in North America, by -5.5% in Africa, and by -4.7% in Latin America.

Africa and Latin America have been swapping places at the top of the ranking in recent weeks.

Europe has taken an upward step in the trend this week, whereas the Middle East has taken a downward step and all other regions are broadly flat on last week.

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

 

Europe's 2Q2022 capacity is projected at 85% of 2019 levels and 3Q2022 at 91%

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. Capacity for 1Q2022 was 74% of 1Q2019 levels.

Capacity for 2Q2022 is currently projected at 84.7% of 2Q2019 levels and 3Q2022 is projected at 90.9% of 3Q2019 seat numbers. Both of these projections have been fairly stable over the past two to three weeks.

Capacity projections are becoming more stable…

With only one more month of 2Q2022 left, the projection is unlikely to change substantially, based on the pattern of previous quarters since the onset of the pandemic.

The cut in schedules in the final month of each quarter has been minimal.

The cut from one month before each quarter to one month before the end of the quarter has been fairly significant, but declining in its significance.

One month before the start of 2Q2022, the projection was for 92%. The 7ppt decline since then is the smallest over the equivalent time frame of any quarter since before COVID-19 first struck.

This demonstrates the greater stability of future airline schedules.

…but the capacity recovery may level out in 3Q2022

However, the projection of 91% for 3Q2022, one month before it starts, is slightly lower than the 92% one month before 2Q2022, ending a rising pattern since 1Q2021.

This suggests that the final outcome for 3Q may not be much higher than for 2Q.

If the 3Q schedule is trimmed by more than 6ppts between now and its final outcome, it may even end up at a lower percentage of the equivalent period of 2019 than 2Q.

Europe: projected seat capacity as a percentage of equivalent quarter of 2019 one month before quarter start and at quarter start, with final outcome

 

Passenger traffic recovery lags capacity recovery, but the gap is closing

Demand data, expressed as passenger numbers, have also been strengthening, but at a lesser rate than capacity data. Moreover, there is a reporting lag in passenger data.

Throughout the pandemic, the trend in passenger numbers has consistently fallen short of seat numbers when expressed as a percentage of the equivalent period of 2019.

Weekly passenger data for Europe's airports were reported by ACI Europe from early in the pandemic until late Oct-2021. Since then, only monthly passenger numbers are available.

ACI Europe reported Jan-2022 passenger numbers were 54% of 2019 levels (versus seats at 65%) and Feb-2022 at 61% (versus seats at 66%).

Its website now reports that 1Q2022 was at 60% overall (seats were at 74%). From this it can be calculated that Mar-2022 passenger numbers were at approximately 66% (seats were at 71%).

This represented a steady recovery across 1Q2022, taking the Mar-2022 level above the 65% reached in Nov-2021.

Moreover, the gap between passenger and seat numbers as a percentage of 2019 levels narrowed from 10ppts in Jan-2022 to 5ppts in Feb-2022 and Mar-2022.

Europe: % change in weekly seat capacity & passenger numbers vs 2019 levels

 

Schedules are becoming more realistic

Another weekly high in Europe's seat capacity as a percentage of 2019 levels is clearly positive for its aviation industry. In addition, the growing robustness of future schedules is a sign of growing confidence.

That said, future schedules are still more likely to be trimmed than increased and the pace of Europe's capacity recovery as a percentage of 2019 levels may ease in 3Q2022.

Moreover, the sharp reversal of the recovery in Jan-2022 as the Omicron wave swept across the continent is a reminder that future variants of COVID-19 (or, indeed, other diseases) could possibly change future capacity plans more dramatically.

Nevertheless, it does now seem that schedules are starting to become a more realistic view of future capacity plans once more, rather than the fantasy fiction that they became during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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