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Europe's low cost carriers continue to drive region's capacity recovery

Analysis

Europe's low cost airlines have seized the opportunity presented by the coronavirus pandemic to take market share from legacy airlines.

After long periods of volatility and fluctuating seat share during the pandemic, LCC seat share on intra-European routes has grown throughout 2022 so far. It is almost 50% in the week of 18-Apr-2022, compared with 44% in the equivalent week of 2019.

Europe's overall capacity recovery has been led by LCCs on intra-Europe, taking the continent's total seat numbers to 81.9% of the equivalent week of 2019 in the week of 18-Apr-2022. Many leading European LCCs are well above 100% of their 2019 capacity levels.

Europe's seat capacity shortfall of 18.1% versus 2019 levels is its second best week on this measure since before COVID-19. Europe remains fourth in the regional ranking, well above Asia Pacific, where capacity is down by 35.7%, abut only just above Middle East, where capacity is down by 18.5%. Africa capacity is down by 14.8%, North America by 11.1%, and Latin America by 8.4%.

Summary

  • Europe has 25.8 million seats this week (week of 18-Apr-2022) – down 18% vs 31.5 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 87%, and 3Q2022 at 92%.
  • Intra-Europe continues to recover faster than total Europe capacity, with low cost airlines leading this recovery and growing their seat share.
  • LCC seat share in intra-Europe markets is growing.

Europe has 25.8 million seats versus 31.5 million in this week in 2019, down 18%

In the week commencing 18-Apr-2022 total European seat capacity is scheduled to be 25.8 million, according to OAG schedules and CAPA seat configurations. This is 18.1% below the 31.5 million seats of the equivalent week of 2019.

This result is 2.1ppts above last week (week of 11-Apr-2022), but 0.9ppts below three weeks ago, when capacity was down by 17.2% compared with the equivalent week of 2019. That had been its highest level since before the pandemic.

Measured by seat capacity as a percentage of 2019 levels, this week is Europe's second best week since before the coronavirus pandemic and above the -18.7% in the final week of Dec-2022 before the full impact of the Omicron variant and the invasion of Ukraine.

This week's total seat capacity for Europe is split between 6.4 million domestic seats, versus 7.2 million in the equivalent week of 2019; and 19.4 million international seats, versus 24.3 million.

The modest decline in total capacity as a percentage of 2019 levels this week has been driven by domestic markets.

Europe's domestic seats are down by 11.2% versus 2019, compared with last week's -18.3%.

International seat capacity is down by 20.2% versus 2019, which is a small improvement on -20.9% in the week commencing 11-Apr-2022.

Europe: percentage change in weekly airline seat capacity vs equivalent week of 2019, weeks of 20-Jan-2020 to 11-Apr-2022

 

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

Europe remains fourth in the ranking of regions measured by seats as a percentage of 2019 levels this week, above Asia Pacific and (just above) Middle East.

With capacity down by 18.1%, Europe is 17.6ppts better than Asia Pacific, where capacity is down by 35.7%, but only 0.4ppts ahead of the Middle East, where seat count is down by 18.5%. Capacity is down by 14.8% in Africa, by 11.1% in North America, and by 8.4% in Latin America.

Europe and the Middle East have taken upward steps in the trend in the week of 18-Apr-2022, whereas 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 18-Apr-2022

 

Europe's 2Q2022 capacity is projected at 87% of 2019 levels and 3Q2022 at 92%

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, 18% in 2Q2021, 64% in 3Q2021 and 71% in 4Q2021. Capacity for 1Q2022 was 74% of 1Q2019 levels.

Capacity for 2Q2022 is currently projected at 86.6% of 2Q2019 levels, which is only a modest downward revision from 87.0% a week ago.

3Q2022 is projected at 92.5% of 3Q2019 seat numbers.

Intra-Europe continues to recover faster than total Europe capacity

Europe's overall recovery in seat capacity has been consistently outpaced by capacity within Europe.

Whereas total Europe is now at 81.9% of 2019 levels, intra-Europe seat numbers are at 85.6% in the week of 18-Apr-2022, according to data from CAPA and OAG.

Total Europe and intra-Europe: weekly seat capacity as a percentage of the equivalent week of 2019, weeks of 20-Dec-2019 to 18-Apr-2022

 

The intra-Europe recovery is led by LCC capacity

The bounce-back in intra-Europe capacity in 2022 has been driven by low cost carriers. The number of LCC seats on routes within Europe is now as high as 96.5% of the equivalent week of 2019.

Many of the leading independent European LCCs are operating more seats on intra-Europe routes than they were in the equivalent week of 2019.

Wizz Air is at 127.1%, Ryanair 111.0%, and Jet2.com 113.3%, while Volotea is at 139.0%.

Only easyJet is below its pre-COVID capacity, on 87.9% of its 2019 levels in the week of 18-Apr-2022.

Total intra-Europe and LCCs intra-Europe: weekly seat capacity as a percentage of the equivalent week of 2019, 30-Dec-2019 to 18-Apr-2022

 

LCC seat share is growing

In all of 2019, LCC seat share on intra-Europe was an average of 41.5%.

During the COVID-19 crisis it varied wildly – LCCs typically both cut and recovered capacity more rapidly as travel restrictions tightened and loosened.

LCC share on intra-Europe grew to 42.4% in 2020, but slipped to 40.5% in 2021.

Intra-Europe: weekly seat share of LCCs, 30-Dec-2018 to 2022 

 

In the rolling 42 weeks up to and including the week commencing 18-Apr-2022, LCC share on intra-Europe has increased to 43.7%.

It is 46.2% year to date in 2022 (compared with 41.1% in the equivalent period of 2019) and 49.5% in the week of 18-Apr-2022 (compared with 43.9% in the equivalent week of 2019).

Legacy airlines are likely to grow back a little more strongly as the summer season progresses and so, LCC share is unlikely to hit 50% on a full year basis. Nevertheless, this threshold could well be reached in the medium term.

Either way, LCC seat share is now emerging structurally higher than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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