Britain’s Aviation Industry Continues Lagging Behind The EU

As the European aviation industry continues its post-COVID recovery, the UK’s aviation sector continues to lag. While short-haul intra-EU travel is now fairly barrier-free, everybody traveling short-haul into the UK has to pay for expensive PCR tests, discouraging many from travel.

UK Aviation, Recovery, Lagging
The UK aviation industry is continuing to lag behind that of the EU. Photo: London Heathrow Airport

It’s no secret that UK-based airlines and airports want change from the government, and recent indications suggest that they may finally get their way with PCR tests likely to be dropped for fully vaccinated individuals. But can the changes come soon enough? Airports and Airlines would likely argue no.

What’s the situation?

So, what’s the current situation. We can’t solely look at the number of flights operated between EU countries and from the UK-EU, as the former far outweighs the latter, even without the impact of COVID-19. We can, however, take a look at how the figures have changed year on year.

Let’s start by looking at the intra-EU aviation recovery. For the week of September 10-17 in 2019, tracked 24,485 EU to EU flights each day on average. In 2020 this sat at 11,473, just 47% of the previous year. However, this year so far, the average sits at 18,917. This means that EU-EU traffic currently sits at 77% of its pre-pandemic level.

UK Aviation, Recovery, Lagging
Intra-EU aviation has recovered to 77% of pre-pandemic traffic levels. Photo:

Now, let’s look at flights between the UK and the EU. During the week in question, an average of 4,227 flights were operated each day on such routes. Last year this fell to 1,774. Having already passed the peak of last year’s recovery, this sat at 42% of the previous year’s figures, roughly on par with intra-EU flights at the time. This year the figure stood at 2,399, just 57% of 2019’s numbers, and a whole 20 percentage points down from the intra-EU recovery.

UK Aviation, Recovery, Lagging
UK-EU traffic has only reached 57% of pre-pandemic levels. Photo:

What about at individual airports?

So we’ve looked at the big picture, but how do individual airports compare? In 2019, London Heathrow Airport was Europe’s busiest. According to the latest statistics, it lost this crown last year, slipping into third place behind Istanbul and Paris Charles De Gaulle. It will likely fall further in the 2021 year-end statistics.

On an average day during this week in 2019, Heathrow Airport handled 1,389 daily flight movements. It currently sits at 55% of this figure, with an average of 758 movements. The picture is even worse at the UK’s second busiest airport. London Gatwick sits at 36% of its pre-pandemic traffic, while Manchester Airport is doing slightly better than Heathrow at 57%.

UK Aviation, Recovery, Lagging
Gatwick is lagging as airlines take advantage of Heathrow’s opened capacity. Photo:

Let’s now look at how these figures compare to the EU’s three busiest airports before the pandemic. In the top spot is Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. During this week in 2019, it handled an average of 1,516 flights a day. With 888 daily flights this year, its traffic sits at 59%. This is roughly comparable with the UK’s busiest airport.

The situation is considerably better in Amsterdam. In 2019 the airport hosted an average of 1,485 flights a day. This year the figure sits at 1,030, 69% of 2019’s figure. This is almost double the percentage of the UK’s second busiest airport.

So what can be done?

The UK government has already made huge strides in helping to facilitate short-haul travel, with those fully vaccinated in the UK and EU able to avoid quarantine when coming from the EU. However, these individuals are still required to take expensive PCR tests on or before the second day after arrival.

Airport Testing Getty
Every passenger must tale a COVID-19 PCR test. Photo: Getty Images

While this isn’t too much of a burden for the occasional traveler, it starts to add up quickly for frequent travelers and families. In contrast, for example, when traveling to Germany, fully vaccinated individuals don’t have to quarantine or even take a rapid test regardless of their origin or place of vaccination.

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Recent suggestions indicate that the UK government is looking to drop the PCR test requirement for the fully vaccinated and move to a two-classification country system. When this happens, though, is anybody’s guess.

Why do you think UK short-haul aviation is lagging behind long-haul? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!