European Regions Airline Association director general Mike Ambrose has labelled 2008 as "a year of hell" and has warned that the current crisis could have a wider-reaching economic impact than the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 2001.

During the first six months of 2008, passenger numbers among ERA's 60 member airlines grew by just 3.7%, down from 7.7% at last year's midway mark and marking the slowest growth since 2001. Traffic growth fell to 6% from 9.7%, but capacity cuts nudged members' average load factor up half a point to 63.8%.

Speaking at the ERA 2008 General Assembly in Manchester in October, Ambrose said: "2008 has been one hell of a year: it's been a year of hell." He warned: "These problems that we are facing now will be far more significant and far more wide-reaching than 11 September 2001. We're going to see a lot more [airline failures] this winter. There is an unavoidable restructuring of air transport facing us."

Aer Arann
2008 has been a "year of hell" for Europe's regional carriers

Individual airlines are unsure about what the future holds. "Brit Air is still okay, but our good health depends on business traffic so, with the credit crunch and recession coming, we plan to reduce capacity somewhere," said Marc Lamidey, chief executive of the French carrier. "We have to adapt. We are like pilots in fog. We are preparing to change our altitude at every moment, but for the time being it's okay."

Aer Arann finance director Paul Schutz added: "We are most definitely feeling the pinch, there's no two ways about it. There's a global credit crunch, high oil prices and our home market is in recession, so these are tough and worrying times."

Ambrose urged Europe's regionals to highlight their role in re-building the economy, saying: "We've got to raise our game." He also flagged the growing proportion of costs which are outside airlines' control.

For more on how Europe's regional carriers are adapting to the changing market, go to:

Source: Airline Business