Eurocontrol has revised slightly upwards its forecast for European flight movements in 2023 and 2024 but continues to predict that 2019 levels will only be reached in 2025.
Outlining its latest seven-year forecast on 3 April, the European network manager cites “vivid pent-up demand” – reflected in “solid bookings and strong tourist flows in southern Europe” – as driving the upgraded forecast.
“After a strong summer 2022, the industry is further recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic with China reopened since mid-January 2023,” Eurocontrol adds.
It says, however, that overall flight numbers are continuing to track its “base” scenario, which means movements are still not expected to reach 2019 levels – 11.1 million flights – until 2025, having hit 10.3 and 10.9 million in 2023 and 2024 respectively under that scenario.
There were some 9.2 million flights in 2022, representing a huge improvement from the 5 million and 6.2 million recorded in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
While the air travel comeback continues, factors influencing Eurocontrol’s forecast range include Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is contributing to a “degradation” of the economic outlook in Europe, higher energy prices and a “cost of living crisis” that might affect travel demand. Eurocontrol adds that the cargo segment has been “strongly” impacted by the war, ”due to constrained operations”.
Furthermore, while long-haul flows are recovering well, the closure of Russian airspace is expected to weigh on Europe-Asia flows, while airlines and airports may again find capacity capped by staff shortages this summer, Eurocontrol explains.
And while the business aviation sector had been enjoying a demand boom, that is “levelling off” amid the return of scheduled services.
Post-2025, Eurocontrol forecasts average annual flight growth of 1.5% in the base scenario, amid “greater uncertainties” within the seven-year assessment period, including around inflation, oil prices and the impact of environmental concerns about the industry.
Eurocontrol notes that its baseline expectation is there will be no return to normal routings through Russian or Ukrainian airspace by the end of its 2029 traffic forecast window.
Its latest forecast chimes with the revised prediction released by airports body ACI Europe in December last year, which also suggested that 2019 levels of traffic would not be reached until 2025, albeit that forecast was based on passenger, rather than flight, numbers.
In financial terms, IATA forecast at the end of last year that Europe’s airlines would return to profit at an industry level in 2023.
Eurocontrol data covers more than 40 member states, including Ukraine but not Russia.
Pre-pandemic, around 85% of the flights tracked by Eurocontrol were commercial airline passenger operations, with the rest accounted for by all-cargo, business aviation and non-scheduled services.