Airline Bankruptcies and Max Grounding Depress European Traffic Growth

 - February 10, 2020, 12:32 PM

The coronavirus outbreak threatens to further slow the growth rate of flight movements across Europe, Eurocontrol warned as it observed a decrease of 19 percent on European flights to and from China during the last week of January; while the flow had grown by about 6 percent at the beginning of the month. This represents a net change of 44 fewer daily flights. The number of flights in Europe—defined as the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) area covering the 27 EU countries and 17 neighboring countries—increased by 0.8 percent last year compared with 2018, marking their lowest growth rate since 2013. The decrease progressed gradually across the months in 2019, according to data released by Eurocontrol.

There was moderate 3 percent growth during January and February, but this more than halved to a 1.2 percent year-on-year growth in the second quarter due to the bankruptcy of Germania, Flybmi, Iceland’s WOW, and Jet Airways; the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max; trade tensions; and a downward revision of GDP growth in major European economies. Environmental concerns that created the “flying shame” movement and contingency measures taken by European airlines to avoid a repeat of the dramatic delay situation of summer 2018 contributed to a “marginal” 0.5 percent summer growth rate. The bankruptcy of a further four airlines—Aigle Azur, XL Airways, Thomas Cook, and Adria Airways—in September and the growing 737 Max effect resulted in a decline of 0.9 percent for the last quarter of 2019. Preliminary data for January 2020 show a decline of 1 percent compared with January last year.

Eurocontrol’s latest Industry Monitor reveals that Ryanair again added the most flights to the European network on a daily basis (compared with 2018) with an increase of 128 flights, followed by Wizz Air Hungary (+32 flights), UK low-cost carrier (+27 flights), rapidly expanding LOT Polish Airlines (+25 flights), and Glasgow airport-based regional carrier Logan Air (+24 flights). Logan Air took over several routes from defunct Flybmi.

With an average of 2,212 flights per day, Ryanair ranks first among the top five airlines operating the most daily flights in 2019, ahead of Lufthansa (1,470 flights), Turkish Airlines (1,331 flights), Air France (946 flights), and SAS (812 flights). The Dublin-headquartered airline also paid the most in route charges in Europe last year, some €700 million ($764 million), Eurocontrol data show.

In terms of main countries contributing to flight growth in Europe, the situation last year looked very different from 2018 when Germany took the top spot with an additional 226 daily flights (not including overflights). In 2019, however, Germany, Iceland, and Sweden ranked among the main contributors to the flight decline. Moreover, 16 countries saw declines in their local traffic in 2019 compared with only two countries in 2018. In 2019, only Spain, Italy, Austria, and France added more than 50 flights per day to European local traffic growth, not including overflights, compared to 10 countries in 2018.