Europe’s air traffic is “on track to recover to 70%-90% of 2019 levels” by the end of this year “even if the evolving pandemic is pushing traffic much closer to our baseline forecast”, Eurocontrol reports.
The air navigation body’s latest report notes the Omicron wave of the pandemic “has seen traffic fall away from our optimistic forecast”.
Eurocontrol’s most-recent forecast – based on scenarios characterised as ‘high’, ‘baseline’ and ‘low’ – is of a recovery to 2019 levels of traffic by 2023 (‘high’), 2024 (‘baseline’) or 2027 (‘low’).
It notes: “The risk aviation currently faces is that the ‘low’ scenario cannot be fully ruled out.
“States are confronted with the need to accelerate booster campaigns or target population segments which have shown reluctance to be vaccinated.
“The risk that new or tweaked vaccines may be need to tackle emerging Covid variants or that governments will return to introducing lockdowns, travel restrictions or other measures, can’t be ruled out.”
However, Eurocontrol insists: “All scenarios predict an eventual recovery to normal or close to normal traffic levels by 2024-25. In the ‘low’ scenario traffic will only recover by 2027, but even here traffic will have reached close to pre-pandemic levels by 2025.”
Eurocontrol’s report found that air passenger numbers continue to lag the recovery in air traffic with 2021 ending with flight numbers down 44% on 2019 but passenger numbers down 60%.
It blamed “the use of smaller aircraft and low load factors” and warned: “This trend is likely to persist with . . . passenger levels in Europe only expected to recover fully to 2019 volumes by 2025, one to two years after Eurocontrol forecasts flights will mostly recover to 2019 levels.”
Amsterdam Schiphol finished the year as Europe’s busiest airport with 45% fewer flights than in 2019. Traffic at Heathrow was 59% down on 2019 compared with 49% at Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Madrid.
Heathrow’s traffic recovered to just 35% down on 2019 in December, but remained behind Amsterdam (-20%), Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt (-24%) and Madrid (-26%). Heathrow lost the highest number of flights, 283,000, of any European airport in 2021, followed by Munich which lost 264,000. But Manchester was the hardest hit in percentage of flight traffic, with two-thirds (67%) fewer flights in 2021 than 2019.
Munich and Dusseldorf were on -64%, Helsinki -63%, Dublin -62% and Stockholm -61%, with Stansted on -53%. By contrast Athens recovered to -31%, Palma and Nice to -35% and Malaga to -38%. Gatwick, the UK’s number-two airport, slipped out of Europe’s top-40 airports all together, falling to 47th.