Omicron may spoil the start of 2022 for European air transport

Closed borders, mobility restrictions and a general uncertainty not conducive to making travel projects: the omicron variant of covid-19 could spoil the beginning of 2022 for European air transport, which believed to have overcome the worst of a historical crisis.

When noting a "sudden" Booking slowdown, Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline in terms of passenger numbers, warned late Wednesday that its annual losses would most likely be double what was expected, due to the impact of this new, more contagious variant.

"The omicron variant of covid and consequently recent travel restrictions in Europe have significantly reduced our bookings for Christmas and New Years"said the airline.

This is mainly the result of the ban on travelers who do not have a justified reason to travel from the United Kingdom to France and Germany and the closure of the Moroccan borders

Beyond reservations, the effects of omicron on European air traffic are still not entirely clear.

According to the Eurocontrol supervisory body, which counts aircraft movements, these have experienced a continuous increase before the Christmas holiday season, and reached 76.3% of traffic in 2019 (that is, before the pandemic) on 19 from December.

Eurocontrol, which forecast an average traffic of 80% in the second half of December, was cautious in the evolution, considering that "the consequences (of omicron) for January are still unclear".

This opinion coincides with that of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has almost 300 member companies, and states that it is too early to assess the effect of the new variant on the sector.

However, its CEO, Willie Walsh, had warned in early December that the restrictions imposed by omicron "jeopardize the global air connection, which took so long to recover".

The association of European airports, ACI Europe, for its part, used a more alarmist tone on Thursday.

– Operational headache –

Citing preliminary data, he calculated that passenger traffic decreased by 20% at his adherents’ facilities as of November 24, when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had identified this new variant in South Africa.

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At the same time, the aircraft occupancy rate fell from 66% to 54%, according to ACI Europe, which, however, like Eurocontrol, noted an increase in passenger flow at the beginning of the Christmas season (+9 % for a week).

But, for the general director of this organization, Olivier Jankovec, only the trips to "visiting family or friends are more or less maintained".

On the other hand, business travel and tourism are plummeting, as a result of extreme uncertainty and the prospect of more restrictions, "between countries that have tightened the conditions for entry into their territory and others that have re-established confinements".

Once the holidays are over, "there is not the slightest doubt as to which omicron will have adverse consequences for passenger traffic during the first quarter of 2022"Jankovec worries.

Both ACI Europe and IATA, as well as the European airline organization, Airlines for Europe, have voiced their opposition to the travel restrictions, noting in unison with the WHO that they are ineffective once the variant has spread widely across the world. population.

But omicron also causes operational headaches for companies: Scandinavian SAS and German Lufthansa were forced to cancel several flights due to having many sick employees.

This new cold wave over the sector falls when it was expected that its customer recovery would continue in 2022, two years after suffering the worst crisis in its history, although it was not expected to return to the pre-covid situation before 2024, and even 2027, depending on the region.

Investments in new aircraft resumed, notably with a giant order for 100 mid-range Airbus last week from Air France-KLM, reflecting the confidence of the sector in the medium and long term.

Even before identifying omicron, IATA had already warned that European airlines would close 2021 with a loss of 20.9 billion dollars (about 18.5 billion euros), and it predicts that the red numbers will continue in 2022, with 9.2 billion dollars (8.130 million euros) of loss.



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