Charting the trends – seismic shock to international travel hurts many of Europe’s largest air markets

The COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on international connectivity and as of the end of Oct-2020, the number of unique city-pairs was 36% lower than its level of at the beginning of this year, according to recent data from International Air Transport Association (IATA).

A year can deliver monumental change to an industry when you are enveloped by a global pandemic and ongoing travel restrictions and quarantines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 will continue to restrict international activity for the foreseeable future. New COVID-19 vaccines are of course a positive development, but will not bring an end to travel restrictions across the first half of 2021 and could cause further economic and social turmoil in the already shattered travel and tourism sector.

One year further on and things could again be different. It is clear that the majority of governments have approached the coronavirus pandemic with a safety-first attitude and reacted quickly to rising infection rates with strong action that has made health the priority ahead of economic, social and human influences.

It is the latter that will ultimately define the recovery, but there is increasing optimism that enhanced testing, a deployment of vaccination programmes and rising consumer confidence will help boost economic recovery and with that deliver an important and much-needed fillip to travel sector, most notably in the aviation sector.

We are already seeing strong domestic travel, especially among the world’s largest air markets, but there is confidence that from around 2Q 2021 the changing COVID environment will initially support rising international short-haul – mainly leisure oriented, but growing pockets of business travel. There are suggestions that as much as 90% of short-haul flying could be reinstated through the 2021 northern summer. It will still be some time later though before the long-haul segment wakes, but it will follow.

This, of course, is simply a projection and it remains subject to market conditions, and as we know that remains very fluid. The industry will also wear its wounds for a while to come, many will heal – for some, unfortunately, the diagnosis may be terminal over what will be a tough northern winter with continued restrictions and depressed demand.

They say ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. In this new regular section CTC – Corporate Travel Community offers a graphical insight into a key industry observation or trend. In this latest edition we use OAG schedule data to explore how COVID-19 has changed international flying in a comparison of schedules in Europe for November, a month that in 2020 saw many countries across the Continent reintroducing stringent mobility restrictions to manage a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

International departure seats from Europe were down more than two thirds in Nov-2020 compared to Nov-2019, a -69.8% reduction. This was more obvious in Western Europe where seats were down -72.3% versus a -56.9% decline in Central & Eastern Europe. The growth in connectivity in Central & Eastern Europe during the 2010s means the Nov-2020 level is down just -17.0% compared to Nov-2010, while in Western Europe that figure remains much higher at -64.8% (Source: CTC – Corporate Travel Community and OAG)
All of last year’s 25 largest city markets have seen November international departure capacity reductions of over -50%, many even exceeding -80%. Moscow is the strongest performer with levels down -50.1%, while London, Munich, Rome, Vienna, berlin, Zurich, Dublin Duesseldorf, Manchester and Helsinki are those that see Nov-2020 levels down to less than one fifth of last year’s totals (Source: CTC – Corporate Travel Community and OAG)
In Nov-2020 Istanbul was the largest city market for international air departure capacity in Europe with London having slipped from the top position in Nov-2019 to third having also been overtaken by Moscow. Paris slipped from third to fourth, while Amsterdam moved ahead of Frankfurt as they switched positions between fifth and sixth. St Petersburg was a strong climber, while Oslo joined it as additions to the top ten. New arrivals in the top 20 included Antalya, Athens and Tenerife, highlighting the bias towards leisure travel at the current time (Source: CTC – Corporate Travel Community and OAG)

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