Europe’s airline capacity proves ‘lower than expected’

Airline capacity in Europe has returned more slowly than anticipated at the end of last year and a return to 2019 levels is not now expected until 2026.

That is according to European air navigation body Eurocontrol which has revised its air traffic forecasts for 2024-30 after recording “lower than expected volumes” of traffic since last November.

Traffic in Europe returned to 93% of the 2019 level during July to September last year and hit 95% in October but then fell back in November and December to 92%-93% as carriers switched to winter flying schedules.

Eurocontrol previously forecast traffic would return to 97% of 2019’s level this January and February, but instead it recorded a fall to 90% in January and 91% in February.

In its latest forecast, Eurocontrol now predicts traffic will reach 96% of the 2019 level this year and 99% in 2025, surpassing the previous level only in 2026, although flight numbers should hit 2019 levels next summer.

In an update on March, Eurocontrol noted traffic in mid-month reached 93% of the 2019 level and was marked by an improvement in punctuality not only on 2023 but on 2019.

The proportion of on-time departures increased by 3.6 percentage points on 2019 and on-time arrivals by 5.1 percentage points.

Eurocontrol noted half the enroute delays in mid-March were caused by capacity and staffing issues, with France accounting for 46%, Spain 15%, Switzerland 13%, Portugal 12%, Germany 8% and the UK just 3%.

UK traffic remained 8% down on 2019, the same as in France, but Germany was down 22% while traffic to and from Spain was up 8% and Turkey up 4%. Traffic at Heathrow was on a par with 2019, while Gatwick remained 13% down.

The UK-US was the busiest long-haul route with more than double the number of weekly flights as between Germany and the US and more than between Germany, France and the US combined. Traffic between Europe and the US overall was up 12% on 2019.

Eurocontrol noted an increase in the distances of flights “linked to the conflict in Ukraine”, reporting: “Flights in particular from and to the Middle East and Asia are flying longer distances.”

The Eurocontrol forecast to 2030 assumes some “diminishing” in demand on domestic routes and “evolving travel habits influenced by environmental considerations” as well as constraints on airport capacity and delays to aircraft deliveries “putting pressure on flight growth”.

It notes about 1% of demand in 2030 “may be lost due to missed airport capacity at major airports”.

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