European aviation market recovery held back by ash, snow, and strikes

BRUSSELS, Belgium, 15 Jan. 2011. The Association of European Airlines (AEA), released a preliminary traffic estimate for 2010 of 335 million passengers boarded by its members, ten million more than in 2009. Using the industry standard measure of passenger-kilometers, this represented a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year. Data is based on monthly returns of AEA's members' traffic up to November, and weekly reports for the last month of the year. The data is available from the research and statistics section of the AEA website.

Posted by John McHale

BRUSSELS, Belgium, 15 Jan. 2011. The Association of European Airlines (AEA), released a preliminary traffic estimate for 2010 of 335 million passengers boarded by its members, ten million more than in 2009. Using the industry standard measure of passenger-kilometers, this represented a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year. Data is based on monthly returns of AEA's members' traffic up to November, and weekly reports for the last month of the year. The data is available from the research and statistics section of the AEA website.

The figures were severely distorted by the effects of external shocks, most notably the airspace closures associated with the Icelandic volcanic eruptions in April and May, but also the unprecedented disruptions at airports caused by the snowfalls of late November and December, AEA officials say. The year was also notable for the frequency and intensity of industrial action which affected flight operations, very often as a response to national austerity measures linked with the recession and its aftershocks, particularly in the Eurozone.

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"While the recession of 2008/9 affected airlines and their markets around the world, the recovery process is very different between one region and another, and particularly in Europe we are lagging behind the rest of the world," says Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, AEA secretary general. "This alone places European airlines at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis their global rivals, and it is vitally important that the political and operating environment within which we do business does not burden us further."

Figures produced by Eurocontrol estimate that 160,000 flights within Europe were cancelled during 2010. 100,000 of these were attributed to the volcanic eruption, but the remaining 60,000 represented a 150 percent increase over the previous year's level of cancellations.

With so many disturbances affecting traffic trends, it is difficult to obtain a clear picture of the state of the market, but there was sufficient evidence from individual monthly figures to suggest an underlying growth trend, as the year progressed, in the range 5 to 6 percent above the previous year's depressed level, AEA officials say.

It is clear that during the first part of the year -- regardless of the ash cloud -- the traffic losses of 2009 were not being recovered, and while genuine growth was reestablished in the second half, the recovery remained extremely weak. The resilience shown by the market in bouncing back after Sept. 11 attacks and again after the second Gulf War and the SARS epidemic has so far not been in evidence, according to the AEA.

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