Eurocontrol thinks it’ll be 2026 before European flight numbers recover to 2019 levels.
In its latest paper released on January 1, the pan-European air traffic management organisation outlined three possible scenarios for the recovery of the European aviation industry. The “expected recovery” scenario says it’ll take five years to recover to 2019 levels. For 2021, the industry is currently on track to end on 51% of 2019 traffic volumes – or 5.64m flights – but this is based on the vaccine being widely available and an end to the pandemic (for whatever reason) by the summer of 2022. By ways of comparison, 2020 saw traffic at 44% of 2019 levels. The model predicts that traffic would reach 92% in 2024, and only recover fully in 2026.
In the other two scenarios, the worst-case predicted that general rollout of vaccines wouldn’t happen at all in 2021 and full recovery wouldn’t occur until 2029, but labelled this option as the “least likely.” Under its best-case scenario – labelled “less realistic” – the vaccines would be widely available by the summer of 2021 and end-of-year flight numbers reaching 73% of 2019 levels.
But even in the “expected recovery” scenario the availability of vaccines won’t make much of a difference to flight numbers: even in the worst-case “least likely” scenario, where no vaccines are available in 2021, flight traffic is predicted to be around 50% of 2019 levels versus the 51% of the “expected recovery” scenario. It’s only in 2022 that there’s substantial divergence, with the worst-case scenario predicting 58% of traffic versus 72% of the “expected recovery” one.
The report also warns that more airline failures can be expected in 2021, which highlights the need for greater financial support for the whole industry.