MIAMI – Domestic and international air traffic in Europe is not expected to recover from COVID-19 slowdowns until 2024 at the earliest, EUROCONTROL announced in a forecast released today.

The report says traffic will take another three years to recover compared to 2019 pre-pandemic levels as nations in the zone set course for recovery.

“The situation remains very challenging for European aviation,” said Eamonn Brennan, director general of the European air-traffic organization. “We’re heading into summer 2021 and most restrictions are still in place despite encouraging progress on the vaccination front.”

He continued: “So while we are anticipating an uptick in summer traffic, our most likely medium-term scenario envisages a coordinated lifting of restrictions by Q1 2022 between regions, which facilitates more long-haul travel.”

The organization anticipates around 50 percent of 2019 traffic for all of 2021. According to the forecast, traffic will only have recovered to 72% of 2019 levels by the end of 2022, and will only get back close to pre-pandemic by 2025.

Image: Eurocontrol

Three Scenarios

The forecast mentions three scenarios, ranging from optimistic to pessimistic:

  • The first scenario foresees traffic returning to 2019 levels by 2024, assuming widespread vaccination across Europe by this summer coupled with a coordinated easing of travel restraints and the resumption of a few long-haul flights. This scenario is aligned with airlines’ plans for the summer months built on expectations for pent-up demand, particularly for the VFR (visiting friends and relatives) market. However, EUROCONTROL says this scenario is optimistic given the current state of vaccine rollouts.
  • The second scenario remains most likely, whereby 2024 traffic recovers to 95 percent of the 2019 figure based on widespread vaccination across Europe and coordinated easing of travel restraints being reached by the first quarter of 2022.
  • The third, most pessimistic scenario assumes traffic in 2024 will only reach 74% of the 2019 figure, with a full recovery not before 2029. “This scenario,” the organization says, “envisages persistent restrictions over the coming years owing to patchy vaccine uptakes and/or renewed outbreaks of new virus strains, with passenger confidence negatively impacted.”

Brennan says the biggest factors in determining the ultimate outcome of the scenarios are the pace of recovery; vaccine progress; European countries adopting consistent measures; and the development of a proposed European Union “Digital Green Certificate,” confirming the vaccination status of a traveler.

Featured image: Eurocontrol HQ. Photo: Eurocontrol