Air travel could recover to pre-Covid levels by 2023 – Eurocontrol

Flight numbers could reach 11% below 2019 levels in Europe next year, forecast shows

 Eurocontrol’s worst-case scenario shows recovery dragging to 2027 if inoculation rates slow, vaccines prove less effective and lockdowns return. Photograph: iStock

Eurocontrol’s worst-case scenario shows recovery dragging to 2027 if inoculation rates slow, vaccines prove less effective and lockdowns return. Photograph: iStock

 

Air travel could recover to pre-Covid levels by 2023, aviation body Eurocontrol said in its most upbeat forecast since the virus began receding.

Following an “encouraging” summer, the European air navigation body expects to see about 6.2 million flights in the continent’s skies this year, 44 per cent fewer than in 2019, but at the higher end of previous recovery predictions.

Eamonn Brennan, Eurocontrol’s director general and former Irish Aviation Authority chief, said flights could reach 9.8 million in Europe next year, just 11 per cent down on 2019.

“But we must be aware that there are still significant downside risks that could affect the recovery,” he cautioned.

In Eurocontrol’s high scenario, with effective vaccination continuing in Europe and globally, air travel could return to 2019 levels by 2023.

The organisation’s figures show flights reaching the 11.1 million mark that they hit in 2019 by 2023 and continuing to grow beyond that.

Worst-case scenario

However, its worst-case scenario shows recovery dragging to 2027. This could occur if inoculation rates slowed, vaccines proved less effective and lockdowns returned.

Eurocontrol’s baseline prediction is closer to the more optimistic position, but tempered by lack of co-ordination among EU states and a slow return of business travel.

Previous predictions from Eurocontrol warned of recovery taking until 2029 in some cases.

In May, the organisation forecast that flights would reach 5.5 million this year, leaving air travel at half 2019 levels.

Announcements this week by Ryanair and United Airlines lifted confidence in Irish air travel’s recovery.

However, the Government imposed the toughest restrictions in Europe on travel through the pandemic and reopened the Republic later than the rest of the EU, leaving Irish air travel with more ground to make up than elsewhere in the bloc.