Air traffic is booming this summer, but once the European holidays are over, will passenger demand hold up?
The question was at the center of the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s annual congress in Rome this week, which took place at the dawn of the approaching high season.
The summer period promises to be by far the best since the start of the COVID-19 crisis which has hit the airline industry hard since 2020.
Some airlines, such as Ryanair Holdings PLC, and countries, particularly Greece, recovered or even exceeded their number of daily flights in 2019, aviation agency Eurocontrol said.
Air traffic across the continent was last week at 86% of the same period in 2019 and is expected to reach up to 95% in August according to its most optimistic estimate, Eurocontrol said.
Companies are filling seats for the coming weeks despite soaring ticket prices, long queues at airports from Frankfurt to Dublin to Amsterdam and strikes by flight attendants, pilots and air traffic controllers.
“Visibility is low because there is a lot of uncertainty,” said ACI Europe chief executive Olivier Jankovec. “We are now in a wartime economy in Europe, we have the prospect of a fairly severe recession, we have inflation at record highs, so how is all of this going to play into consumer sentiment…the jury is out still not there.”
The Director General for Transport and Mobility at the European Commission, Henrik Hololei, echoed this reflection.
“We really have to tighten the seat belt because there is going to be a lot of turbulence,” he told delegates. “We are entering (…) a period of uncertainty that we have never known in the last decade, and that is of course the greatest enemy of business,” he said. .
Hololei listed the war in Ukraine, high energy prices, rising interest rates and shortages of energy, food and labour.
The price of jet fuel has doubled over the past year as a shortage of refining capacity has added to the boom in crude oil prices. Fuel accounts for around a quarter of operating costs for airlines, which have passed on ticket price increases to consumers as they seek to fill coffers emptied by the two-year health crisis.
Athens International Airport general manager Yiannis Paraschis expressed fears that “rising energy costs and inflation are consuming a large part of the disposable income of European households”.
Istanbul International Airport manager Kadri Samsunlu expressed concern about the effect of inflation in Western Europe.
“We don’t know what will happen to demand” if consumer confidence is damaged, he said.
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