European flight numbers will reman below 2019 totals next year, but observers hope for shorter queues and fewer delays.
High fuel costs will combine with other problems to limit airlines’ ability to match pre-Covid capacity levels next year.
European air traffic control body Eurocontrol recently published figures showing that total airline capacity will reach 92 per cent of 2019 totals next year, after hitting 86 per cent in 2022.
The organisation’s baseline scenario predicts 10.2 million flights in Europe in 2023, 92 per cent of 2019.
Its best case for 2023 is 11.1 million flights, broadly equal with the last year before Covid curbs hit air travel. A worst case would be 9.6 million flights, 86 per cent of the total.
Irishman Eamonn Brennan, Eurocontrol’s director general, said the Ukraine war and the industry’s capacity to handle this year’s rapid growth held back demand.
“As a result, we expect to see about 9.3 million flights this year, 49 per cent more than in 2021 but still 16 per cent fewer than we had in 2019,” he said.
“We are optimistic about traffic recovering to around 92 per cent of 2019 levels next year. But there are still significant downside risks that could affect the recovery.”
Stephen Furlong, aviation analyst with Dublin stockbrokers Davy, believes that Eurocontrol’s view of next year is reasonable. “The challenges are basically input costs, whether that’s fuel or labour,” he said.
Airport staffing problems, air traffic control strikes, particularly in France, and supply-chain issues all contributed to bottlenecks across air travel networks this year.
Consequently, unexpectedly long queues caused passengers to miss flights, while airlines cancelled services and ground handlers lost baggage.
Mr Furlong believes these problems will be “somewhat alleviated” next year. Airlines and ground handling companies have begun increasing staff numbers to help them cope with demand.
At the same time, the carriers have been scrutinising proposed schedules to ensure that they are better prepared coming into summer 2023.
“I think it will be better, but there will still be issues with air traffic control,” said Mr Furlong.
Those problems will not be limited to strikes, he explained. The war in Ukraine means aircraft travelling between Europe and Asia have to avoid that region.
This in turn limits the available airspace for flights in the rest of Europe.
Eurocontrol believes that it will be 2024 and beyond by the time that air travel recovers to meet and exceed 2019 levels.