Annual European Flight Growth Drops To Lowest Rate Since 2013

A lot has changed with European flight traffic in the last year. In fact, the number of flights in Europe in 2019 only increased by 0.8% from 2018. According to Eurocontrol, this is the lowest growth rate since 2013. There are numerous factors contributing to this slowdown. Let’s take a look at what they are.

Thomas Cook Credit Cards
The bankruptcy of a number of European carriers was one factor. Photo via Pixabay

Airline bankruptcies

In the second quarter of 2019 alone, we saw the bankruptcy of a number of airlines. According to AIN Online, the demise of airlines Germania, Flybmi, WOW Air, and Jet Airways sparked a decrease in air traffic. If this wasn’t bad enough, the second half of last year also saw the bankruptcy of several more airlines. In particular, we said goodbye to Aigle Azur, XL Airways, Thomas Cook, and Adria Airways.

While European legacy carriers and budget airlines filled the gap as best they could, it was still not enough to keep up the pace of growth we’ve seen in previous years.

WOW A320neo
WOW Air folded in March of 2019. Photo: Airbus

737 MAX grounding

Then, of course, there is the 737 MAX grounding, which has been in effect since March of 2019. While it affected quite a number of North American carriers (WestJet, Air Canada, Southwest, American, United), there were a number of European airlines affected as well.

Ryanair was the biggest European customer for the 737 MAX. In 2014 the Irish low-cost carrier ordered 135 Boeing 737 MAX 200s, with an option for 75 more. The first batch of aircraft – all with a high-density seat configuration – were slated for delivery in the summer of 2019. Reports of base closures and job cuts were connected to the grounding.

Despite its MAX problems, the airline flew an average of 2,212 flights per day, ranking first among the top five airlines operating the most daily flights in 2019.

Other European MAX customers include Turkish Airlines and TUI. TUI estimates a loss of €400 million in revenue due to the situation. Turkish Airlines is threatening a lawsuit against Boeing.

Ryanair, Boeing 737 MAX, Base Closures
Ryanair expected the 737 MAX to be delivered from April 2019. Photo: Ryanair

Flight shaming

And then there were environmental concerns and the relatively new phenomenon of “flight shaming”. For those who see a strong connection between air travel and climate change, there is an encouragement to shun air travel for the sake of the planet.

The data from Eurocontrol shows that in 2019, Germany, Iceland, and Sweden ranked among the main contributors to the decline of European flights. Some of this may have to do with flight shaming.

If we take Germany as an example, the country saw a drop in domestic passenger traffic since July 2019. The drop seemed to coincide with a number of “climate strikes” held throughout Germany, including the global climate strike in late September.

Figures from the ADV German airports association show that the number of domestic passengers in Germany has been steadily dropping each month since the summer of 2019.

greta thunberg
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg took environmental awareness to new heights in 2019. Photo: Anders Hellberg Wikimedia Commons


2020 may not be any better.

Some problems from 2019 are being carried over such as the MAX crisis. In fact, we may not see the MAX back in the air until June 2020 – possibly later. Flight shame doesn’t seem to be disappearing at all either.

Furthermore – and most importantly – the coronavirus outbreak threatens to significantly slow the growth rate of flight movements across Europe. Even just for the last week of January 2020, Eurocontrol observed a decrease of 19% on European flights to and from China.

Could a combination of these factors also cripple carriers that are on the edge of collapse?

Let us know in the comments if you think 2020 will show an even smaller growth rate for air travel, or if you think we might even see a decline!