This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
Underscoring the importance of individual states coming up with uniform measures to support the return of flight, Eurocontrol estimated it could take until the end of the decade before traffic levels to return to those of 2019. In its latest forecast, the European air traffic control organization outlined an “optimistic” scenario under which traffic would return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 but said the “most likely” scenario would be for a 75 percent traffic return by 2024 with a full return by 2029.
“Even in the most positive scenario, we do not expect a recovery to 2019 levels before 2024,” said Eurocontrol director general Eamonn Brennan. “There is a very real prospect that this recovery could take even longer, perhaps to as far out as 2029. This is a catastrophic picture for the aviation industry and shows clearly why it is so important for states to take consistent and coherent measures to support the aviation industry and make passengers feel safe to fly again.”
The forecast took into account the fact that traffic dropped 65 percent between March and October, as well as the general decline in economies, and looked at three scenarios: a widely available vaccine by 2021, a widely available vaccine by 2022, and a lack of effective vaccine. In the first case, flights could return to about 11.411 million in the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) region by 2204, the most optimistic level. The second case would see a return by 2026 with 10.248 million flights in 2024; and in the third, lingering infection and low passenger confidence would keep traffic from fully rebounding until 2029, with 8.293 million flights in 2024.
“The forecast shows that the evolution of the aviation sector is strongly dependent on how soon an effective vaccine is made widely available and by levels of public confidence,” the agency said.
However, the agency also cautioned that forecasting during this time is particularly difficult as more states start to shut down and suffer from spikes in the virus. “Forecasting is never easy and of course, on this occasion, it is an even bigger challenge due to the very volatile environment,” Brennan added.
Larger states in the ECAC area—including Germany, France, and the Netherlands—have maintained traffic more strongly with a mix of repatriation, cargo, and domestic flights, Eurocontrol reported. Further, Norway has been least affected since it has a more critical dependence on aviation recovery and stronger recovery in domestic travel.