Europe Has Stalled: Is The Recovery In Trouble?

Europe’s path to recovery has stalled, based on analyzing flight data from Eurocontrol. Movements remain down by ~30% versus 2019, pretty much unchanged since the start of August. Ryanair, Wizz Air, and Turkish Airlines lead the recovery, but the overall picture is not pretty.

Turkish Airlines is one airline leading the recovery. Its flights are down by about 13% while its hub, Istanbul Airport, has the second-highest number of flights after Amsterdam. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

What’s happening?

Some 22,627 flights were recorded by Eurocontrol on September 21st, down by 29.7% from the same day in 2019. And little has been clawed back recently, despite the peak August month. This summer’s best day was September 4th, as confirmed by The Anker Report, when flights were down by 28.2%, based on a seven-day moving average.

This lack of progress is especially concerning as the summer is effectively behind us as we speed towards autumn and winter, especially bad for coronavirus. Of course, there are positive developments ahead that will increase demand. These include the US opening to most fully vaccinated European citizens from November, while England and some other parts of the UK will make it easier, simpler, and cheaper to visit for fully vaccinated visitors from October.

Essential steps, but coming too late for the all-important summer 2021. The benefits will be seen in 2022, assuming nothing negative happens to derail it in the meantime.

Eurocontrol data September 21st 2021
There has been little change for weeks now. However, some carriers have more flights now than in 2019, including DHL Express, ASL Airlines Belgium, and Loganair. Image: Eurocontrol.

Important things to remember

It is essential to appreciate that demand for travel has stalled, feeding into airline capacity and everything else. Remember, schedules are still being tweaked very late into the day. If there were no or very few restrictions or bureaucracy, this would mean higher levels of confidence and demand would necessarily increase.

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While Eurocontrol data details actual flights, it is still effectively capacity. We cannot tell how full flights were, what fares passengers paid, how performance compared to 2019, etc. The data is essential, but only one part of the puzzle.

Flights by Norwegian regional carrier Widerøe are down by less than 1%, Eurocontrol shows. Photo: Widerøe.

The stalled picture is clear to see

The Anker Report has created the following very illustrative figure detailing the recovery of major European airlines until the week of September 18th. For many operators, the stalled progress is obvious.

Vueling, for example, has seen its recovery reduce to 72.8% from virtually 80% a week ago. Although Eurocontrol shows that Amsterdam has the most flights of any European airport, KLM flights fell for a third consecutive week. Lufthansa, however, recorded the most significant week-on-week improvement, although it is still lower than it recorded earlier this year.

Airline recovery
The recovery process is far from equal across Europe. Image: The Anker Report.

Three airlines lead the recovery

Ryanair, Wizz Air, and Turkish Airlines very much lead the recovery, although notice Wizz Air’s significant decline in recent weeks. Ryanair has about 90% of the flights it did in 2019, with the ultra-low-cost carrier Europe’s top airline by movements. Indeed, the most recent data, from September 21st, shows that Ryanair had 2,240 flights, more than double that of number-two, Turkish Airlines (1,113).

The others in the top-10 were easyJet (794), Lufthansa (743), Air France (693), KLM (670), Wizz Air (603), SAS (462), Pegasus (423), and British Airways (407). While easyJet had the third-highest number of movements, it is far from its level in 2019, sadly indicating how far we still have to go – even by flights.

The author has a work trip to Milan coming up, with more flights hopefully booked soon. Where are you traveling this year?