Geneva Airport Spring 2024

Europe set for busiest summer but challenges remain

Air Service One

Airline capacity across the European airport network during the all-important second and third quarters of 2024 are up 6.4% over the same period last year, bringing the total volume of seats 1.2% above pre-pandemic levels (2019).

Analysis of capacity data provided by airlines to Cirium shows that Europe has a record 915 million available seats in Q2 and Q3. Demand for air travel has stayed resilient this summer in the face of much increased air fares, even though the growth dynamic has slowed down or even stalled in a few markets compared to last year.

The European aviation landscape continues to be fragmented as geopolitics and structural aviation market changes, including the demand for leisure travel and selective LCC expansion, continue to shape traffic performance.

Macro-economic conditions have continued to improve into the summer in the EU and the UK, with further drops in inflation and growth in real wages. Combined with consumers prioritising experiences and leisure, this continuing to support growth in demand for air travel, with headwinds still coming mainly from supply pressures and higher air fares, as well as geopolitics.

Among Europe’s largest markets (highlighted in red), the UK will remain the biggest with over 180 million seats, just above 2019 levels. On the other hand, major sporting events taking place on the continent this summer, including the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris, as well as the European Football Championship in Germany, will not result in significant capacity growth, with France just above its pre-pandemic seating availability, while Germany, still impacted by a sharp decline in domestic flights and capacity, will be well below its 2019 record.

 

European capacity receovery

 

Prague International Airport

Engine issues hit European airlines

Due to engine manufacturing issues affecting its Airbus neo fleet, Wizz Air, one of Europe’s largest airlines, has been forced to significantly reduce its 2024 summer capacity. This has led to the grounding of a substantial portion of its fleet, with approximately 20% of aircraft out of service until a thorough inspection, anticipated to extend over several months, is completed. Consequently, the airline is implementing measures such as flight reductions, closure of selected bases, and adjustments to seasonality.

Despite the challenges, Wizz Air aims to maintain a 47.5% increase in capacity compared to its 2019 levels. However, in the second and third quarters of 2024, the number of available seats will see minimal growth year-on-year, with a symbolic increase of just 0.1%. This setback is particularly impactful in regions where Wizz Air holds a dominant presence, such as North Macedonia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

The airline had initially anticipated the 2024 summer season to be its busiest on record but is now forced to scale back its operations. The revised plan involves an 11% reduction in capacity for the second and third quarters, resulting in the removal of over 4.3 million seats across Europe.

Engine issues will also dampen Lufthansa’s attempts at reaching its pre-pandemic capacity levels. The German carrier has thinned out its schedule due to engine problems affecting part of its medium-haul Airbus fleet. In total, some 100 weekly flights have been cut from its network in Q2 and Q3 on its original plan.

European legacy carriers lag LCC rivals in recovery

Ryanair will remain Europe’s fastest growing airline during the summer of 2024, with its capacity up a notable 44.8% on five years ago. The ULCC is heavily expanding in the UK, Spain, and Italy this summer, but also in central and eastern Europe, where it has become the biggest airline in markets such as Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, and the Baltic states.

Biggest European airlines

 

As Europe’s airports and airlines welcome another summer, there is no doubt geopolitical tensions will continue to play a part of the continent’s new reality, and so will structural changes in the aviation market. However, supply pressures have so far not had a major impact on traffic, while leisure demand remains resilient.

Milan Bergamo Airport