European air traffic “recovered solidly” by the end of last year and the growth “will not unwind” in 2022, according to European air navigation body Eurocontrol.
It reported “a partial but crucially sustained traffic recovery in Europe” with traffic growing from 36% of 2019 levels last January to 70% in the summer as flight numbers hit a two-year high on August 27 before rising to 81% of 2019 levels in late October.
Eurocontrol noted December traffic remained at 78% of 2019’s level despite additional restrictions and hit 81% in the second half of the month.
However, it also reported “all airlines [are] facing lower load factors, averaging 50%-60%”.
Eamonn Brennan, Eurocontrol director general, noted: “The situation remains enormously challenging. The unfolding Omicron situation is pushing many of Europe’s airlines to cut capacity by up to 30% in January and we’re starting to see flights cancelled due to Covid-19 exposure among crew members.”
Yet he insisted: “As soon as the situation improves, we expect a rapid rebound [to] closer to 2019 traffic levels.”
Eurocontrol reported: “Summer 2021 delivered a better than expected recovery . . . [and] the European aviation network remained at between -20% and -25% of 2019 levels unlike in 2020 when the summer bounce was followed by a precipitous drop”.
It added: “Low-cost carriers recovered quicker over the summer than traditional carriers, with some operating at 2019 levels since August.”
Ryanair ended the year as Europe’s busiest airline having increased capacity to “above 100% of 2019 levels in the closing months of the year”. By contrast, easyJet flight numbers in December remained 33% down on 2019 and British Airways’ 46% down.
EasyJet traffic over the year was 64% down on 2019 and BA owner IAG 57% down compared with 43% at Ryanair.
Total traffic across Europe was 56% of 2019 levels in 2021, but UK traffic was 62% down compared with 50% in Germany, 44% in Spain and 42% in France. Ireland and Finland also lost 62% and Sweden and Denmark were not far behind “with very weak intra-Scandinavian traffic”. By contrast, air traffic to and from Greece was just 27% down year on year, Turkey 30% down and Cyprus 34% down.
Eurocontrol noted the financial impacts “remain huge”, with Europe’s carriers losing €18.5 billion in 2021 on top of €22 billion in losses in 2020.