Recovery of the Public Airline Industry in Europe


As Europe recovers from Covid-19, so is the airline industry. Starting in May 2020, as countries started reducing restrictions, increasing demand for air travel,  airlines began ramping up their number of flights. In May 2020, flights were down approximately 90% from the same period the previous year. The airline industry was one of the most impacted sectors by Covid-19 due to the enforced bilateral regulations. As countries started to close their doors, so did airlines.

The airline industry is constantly recovering from a variety of world issues, often economic, meaning that they are continuously restarting growth. It is now recovering due to intercountry regulation and widespread vaccination.

It is critical to understand that the aviation industry was still recovering from the 2009 financial crisis when Covid-19 struck. The 2009 financial crisis harmed the sector and took until 2011 to recover. It started declining again until 2014, when it showed resurgence until the pandemic. The number of flights in Europe in 2017 was 1% lower than the all-time high set in 2008 despite passenger numbers being 50% higher. The rise in passengers is due to an increase in plane size and efficiency, which should continue to increase. The number of all-cargo flights fell by 2% during the same period, showing a move toward belly cargo (cargo under passenger planes). 

According to the most likely future scenario, the total number of flights utilizing EU airports is predicted to reach 13.6 million in 2040, up from 9.6 million in 2017. This corresponds to an annual growth rate of 1.5% on average. 

The airline industry is continuing to evolve with new business models that are being implemented constantly. The most recent was the low-cost business model. Between 2005 and 2017, the number of low-cost scheduled flights climbed by 14%. The number of weekly scheduled flights between a pair of cities throughout the year increased by 43%, from 6,000 to 8,600. The Eurocontrol general director, Eamonn Brennan, said while outlining the new short-term forecast that there is a massive demand for air travel in the region. The advancements in vaccination and the removal of government restrictions on non-essential travel being the “key drivers” of traffic growth in the coming months. 

Eurocontrol, or the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, is an international organization responsible for air traffic management throughout Europe. The graph below depicts Eurocontrol’s October 2021 7-year predictions on commercial flight traffic.


The base scenario assumes broad vaccine uptake across Europe and the coordinated ease of travel restrictions between global zones by the first quarter of 2022, with more long-haul flows beginning to return. This would allow recovery to 2019 levels by 2024. 

The “optimistic” model implies that nations ease restrictions sooner than projected and that traffic climbs considerably sharper, allowing it to reach 79% of pre-crisis levels in December. 

The “pessimistic” prediction anticipates that variables such as Covid-19 variations will make opening travel markets more difficult than expected. 

Eurocontrol claims it is creating these statistics in close contact with individual airlines across a broad sample of companies and market groups. They cite the accuracy of its January projection that May traffic would be 39% of pre-crisis levels. 

Brennan, states “Even in the most positive scenario, we do not expect a recovery to 2019 levels before 2024. There is a very real prospect that this recovery could take even longer, perhaps [until] 2029. This is a catastrophic picture for the aviation industry and shows clearly why it is so important for States to take consistent and coherent measures to support the aviation industry and make passengers feel safe to fly again.”

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