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Europe’s multi-speed recovery continues into summer 2024

Europe News

Airline capacity across the European airport network during the all-important second and third quarters of 2024 will surge 5% over the same period last year, bringing the total volume to just 0.8% below pre-pandemic levels (2019).

Analysis of capacity data provided by airlines to Cirium shows that Europe has 912.2 million available seats in Q2 and Q3, illustrating a multi-speed recovery which has been prevalent during the preceding year. Markets in southern and southeastern Europe are well ahead of their pre-pandemic capacity levels, however, those in central Europe and Scandinavia continue to lag behind.

Geopolitical conflicts have been a significant contributor to this multi-speed recovery, predominantly affecting airports in Finland, Moldova, and the Czech Republic. However, the Covid-19 induced structural changes in the aviation market are also having a major impact. These structural changes include the prominence of leisure, which has led to southern Europe’s strong performance, and VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives), which has played an important role in the recovery of eastern and southeast European markets.

ULCCs such as Ryanair and Wizz Air, which are selectively expanding, have contributed to the divide.

Balkans see strong growth

Albania maintains its position with the highest percentile growth rate at 141.9%, as the competition between Ryanair and Wizz Air heats up. European travellers are being increasingly drawn to Albania’s coast as a cost-effective holiday option.

Noteworthy growth is also observed in North Macedonia (38.2%) due to Wizz Air’s expanding presence, Serbia (35.8%) driven by its fast-growing national airline, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (32.4%) with Ryanair commencing operations to various destinations from the capital, Sarajevo, in Q2.

Within Europe’s top five largest country markets (shown in red on the figure), all but one have capacity growth during the summer compared to 2019. They include Italy (14.5%), Türkiye (14.4%), Spain (9.5%), and the United Kingdom (0.7%). On the other hand, Germany continues to grapple with challenges in restoring pre-Covid figures, with a persistent 12.2% decline in capacity due to a notable reduction in seats on domestic flights.

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European capacity reeovery

Major European carriers yet to reach 2019 summer records

Ryanair will remain Europe’s fastest growing airline during the summer of 2024, with its capacity up a notable 43% 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 and the Baltic states.

One of its main rivals, Wizz Air, has increased its capacity by over 66% on 2019, however, year-on-year growth will be significantly subdued. With over 40 of its aircraft to be grounded this summer because of manufacturing issues with engines on its Airbus neo fleet, Wizz Air has stalled its growth in 2024, which has led to revised capacity figures in markets such as Poland, Bulgaria, and Serbia where the airline has a vast network.

Biggest European airlines Q2 & Q3 2024

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.

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. The big question marks will be about supply pressures and leisure demand resilience, with the latter unlikely to keep defying macroeconomics but becoming increasingly tied to them.

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