Eurocontrol expects traffic in its airspace to recover this year to 85 percent of pre-Covid 2019 levels despite disruption from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and inflation pressures on the global economy. The air traffic management agency published its revised short-term forecast for 2022-2024 late on June 3 as flight delays and cancellations escalated at several European airports caused mainly by chronic staff shortages.
In a revision of its October 2021 forecast, Eurocontrol says the most likely scenario would see around 9.5 million flights this year in European airspace. That represents a slight decline on the earlier forecast, which projected traffic to rebound to 89 percent of 2019 levels. The organization’s forecasters blamed the effect of the Omicron variant of Covid during the first quarter of this year as the main reason for the near-term dip.
Eurocontrol now expects it to take until 2024 to achieve a complete return to 2019 traffic volumes. In 2023, it expects the total number of flights to reach 10.6 million, which would come within 5 percent of the pre-pandemic levels.
However, the new forecast also offers an alternative “low scenario” outlook in which continuing disruption from Covid, high fuel prices, and reduced disposable income due to rising living costs further undermine the recovery in traffic levels, Under that scenario, it would take until 2027 for the air transport sector to achieve recovery.
For now, shortages of airline and airport staff remain a serious problem, with the UK found to have been particularly exposed during the late spring break travel season over the past two weeks. Thousands of British travelers have found themselves stranded around Europe or had trips canceled at short notice, with much of the disruption centering on London Gatwick Airport. Airlines including EasyJet, Tui, and British Airways have all seen large numbers of flight cancellations in recent weeks, raising concerns about what might happen during the peak summer season.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and Dutch flag carrier KLM have also seen extensive disruption in recent days. This followed difficulties experienced at airports in Dublin and Paris.
However, the situation in the UK has proved the most serious and prolonged, with airline and airport leaders accusing the government of failing to respond to its warnings about staff shortages earlier this year. On Sunday, transport secretary Grant Shapps once again refused requests to waive post-Brexit restrictions on companies being able to recruit European Union citizens, and instead blamed the industry for laying off too many staff during Covid despite having received furlough financial support.
But industry leaders have blamed the government for the long delays in approving security passes for new personnel, which created an obstacle to recruitment and training. Airlines and airports have said that many new hires have decided to take offers outside the industry after getting frustrated at the long wait to start work.