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Europe's aviation recovery slips as EUROCONTROL trims flights forecast

Analysis

Europe's aviation capacity recovery has lost some momentum this week, but the gradual return to 2019's weekly seat numbers has never been a straight line improvement.

Moreover, EUROCONTROL has lowered its 2022 base scenario forecast of flight numbers in Europe's airspace from 89% of 2019 levels to 85%. This reflects the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 since its previous forecast in Oct-2021. Its base scenario forecast of 85% in 2023 and 99% in 2024 are each reductions of 1ppt from its Oct-2021 forecast.

Europe's seat capacity has reached 85.6% of 2019 levels in the week commencing 6-Jun-2022, or a shortfall of 14.4% compared with the equivalent week 2019. This is 1.9 ppts worse than last week, which had been its best performance on this measure since before the COVID-19 crisis.

Europe remains fourth in the regional ranking, above Asia Pacific, where capacity is down by -27.8%, and the Middle East, where capacity is down by -21.5%. Africa capacity is down by -12.8%, North America is down by -8.3%, and Latin America by -4.3%.

Summary

  • Europe has 30.3 million seats this week, down -14% vs 35.4 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, while 2Q2022 is projected at 85% and 3Q2022 at 90%.
  • EUROCONTROL's reduced base scenario forecast: flights at 85% of 2019 levels in 2022, reaching 95% in 2023 and 99% in 2024.
  • EUROCONTROL's low scenario forecasts 77% of 2019 flights in 2022. Its high scenario forecasts 91% in 2022.

Europe has 30.3 million seats vs 35.4 million this week in 2019, down -14%

In the week commencing 6-Jun-2022, total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 30.3 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations.

This is -14.4% below the 35.4 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019, which is a deterioration of 1.9ppts from last week's -12.5%, which had been Europe's strongest week on this measure since before the pandemic.

This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 7.6 million domestic seats, versus 8.2 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 22.8 million international seats, versus 27.2 million.

Europe's domestic seats are down by -7.9% versus 2019, compared with last week's -5.3%.

International seat capacity is down by -16.3% versus 2019, compared with last week's -14.6%.

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

 

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

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 -14.4%, Europe is 13.4ppts better than sixth-placed Asia Pacific, where capacity is down by -27.8%, and 7.2ppts above the Middle East, where seat count is down by -21.5%. Capacity is down by -12.8% in Africa, by -8.3% in North America, and by -4.3% in Latin America.

Asia Pacific and North America have taken upward steps in the trend this week, whereas Africa, the Middle East and Europe have taken downward steps and Latin America is broadly flat on last week.

Percentage change in passenger seat capacity vs 2019 by region, week of 30-Mar-2020 to week of 06-Jun-2022

 

Europe's 2Q2022 capacity is projected at 85% of 2019 levels and 3Q2022 at 90%

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 84.5% of 2Q2019 levels, a very modest trim of 0.2ppts from last week's projection, and 3Q2022 is projected at 90.3% of 3Q2019 seat numbers, down by 0.6ppts from last week. Both of these projections have been fairly stable over the past few weeks, although they continue to be trimmed.

EUROCONTROL's reduced base scenario forecast: flights at 85% of 2019 levels in 2022…

On 3-Jun-2022 EUROCONTROL updated its three year forecast of annual flight numbers in European airspace to 2024.

According to this update, EUROCONTROL's base scenario envisages 9.5 million flights in 2022, 85% of 2019's 11.1 million. This follows 45% in 2020 and 56% in 2021.

EUROCONTROL's previous forecast, issued in Oct-2021, was for 89% of 2019 levels in 2022. The downward revision to 85% reflects the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in 1Q2022.

…reaching 95% in 2023 and 99% in 2024

The base scenarios forecasts 10.6 million flights in 2023, which is 95% of 2019 numbers, and 11.0 million in 2024, 99% of 2019 numbers. These are small downward revisions from the Oct-2021 forecast of 96% in 2023 and 100% in 2024.

EUROCONTROL 3-year forecast for flight numbers, Europe*, 2022-24

 

The base scenario envisages COVID-19 clearly moving towards endemic phase, with fewer travel restrictions, together with relatively good passenger confidence, pent-up demand and consumer savings, and a slow return of business travel.

EUROCONTROL's low scenario forecasts 77% of 2019 flights in 2022

EUROCONTROL's low scenario forecasts 77% of 2019 flights in 2022, rising to 85% in 2023 and 99% in 2024.

This takes account of downside risks, including the lingering or renewed effects of COVID-19 variants, leading to the reintroduction of lockdowns and travel restrictions, and economic risks, such as high energy prices and a long term drop in the propensity to fly. In the low scenario, 2019 levels would not be recovered until after 2027.

Its high scenario forecasts 91% in 2022

In EUROCONTROL’s high scenario, 91% of 2019 flights are achieved in 2022, with 103% in 2023 and 108% in 2024.

In this scenario there are no travel restrictions, there is good passenger confidence, the impact of pent-up demand and consumer savings and a faster recovery in business travel.

In all three scenarios, airspace over Russia and Ukraine remains closed throughout the forecast horizon to 2024.

Since Ukraine accounted for less than 3% of flights in European airspace in 2019 and Russia is not included in EUROCONTROL, the impact on its forecasts is relatively minor.

Europe's capacity recovery may plateau in the summer peak

The modest downward revision in the EUROCONTROL forecasts has come at the same time as this week's slight dip in Europe's capacity as a percentage of 2019 levels. Both are a reminder that the recovery continues to follow an uneven path.

It is too early to say whether or not the dip from 88% of 2019 seat numbers last week to 86% this week is the start of a more significant slide. It is more likely to be just another example of the volatility in the data.

However, current staffing challenges in the industry mean that the recovery in seat numbers as a percentage of 2019 levels may plateau, at best, before rising once more after the summer peak period has passed.

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