József Váradi, chief executive of Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air, and Eurocontrol director general Eamonn Brennan have slammed the lack of a common, EU-wide approach to Covid-19 travel restrictions, contending that a new wave of quarantines and border closures imposed by national governments across the region are halting the recovery of the industry. “It is nearly impossible for airlines to plan. Nobody wants to book a flight. It is not the travel experience that is holding people back from flying. The [national] governments, in my opinion, need to get their act together and sort this out,” Brennan said on Tuesday during an aviation “Hardtalk” organized by Eurocontrol.
The Brussels-based air traffic management organization’s traffic-recovery scenarios, released at the end of April, have proved “alarmingly accurate” over the past months, according to Brennan. In August, the number of flights in European airspace had fallen 51 percent from last year’s level, fully in line with the Eurocontrol “coordinated” scenario. However, a clear stop of the gradual traffic increase, recent announcements by airlines they will scale back planned capacity hikes, and no start of long-haul flights will require Eurocontrol to adjust its traffic scenarios.
EasyJet on Tuesday became the latest European airline to plan capacity cuts in response to reduced demand for travel due to the constantly evolving government restrictions and quarantines in the markets where it operates, such as the UK. The LCC said it now expects to fly “slightly less than 40 percent of our planned schedule” over the current quarter. “We know our customers are as frustrated as we are with the unpredictable travel and quarantine restrictions,” commented EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren.
The European Commission last week outlined a new proposal to streamline what Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders described as a “cacophony of national rules” and reinstall frictionless travel across the bloc, including common criteria and thresholds for member states when deciding whether to introduce travel restrictions. “We support this response, but we need to make it happen, “Brennan stressed. The commission’s efforts earlier this summer to adopt a harmonized EU-wide approach to reopen borders failed.
“It is a shame that we have not been able to act on an orchestrated, coordinated basis in Europe. Each country went its own way,” Váradi lamented. Of the 45 countries in which the LCC operates, no two apply the same set of Covid-19-related travel measures, he noted. “Now we are in a second wave of restrictions and still we are not learning lessons from the first wave,” he complained. “This is a very ineffective way of managing this crisis.” Wizz Air currently operates about three-quarters of last year’s capacity, a higher percentage than most other airlines in Europe. It ranked as Europe’s fifth-largest operator in terms of flights on September 1, after EasyJet and ahead of Lufthansa, according to Eurocontrol data.
Váradi attributes his airline’s ability to navigate relatively well through the corona pandemic in part to Wizz Air’s diverse network anchored by 30 operating bases spread across several countries and its agility to permanently adapt capacity and routes to demand. “We have learned we need to be agile and flexible,” he said, adding he predicts the market will remain unpredictable for some time and the recovery of the airline industry will not be V or U-shaped. “I expect a rollercoaster recovery, with ups and downs.”