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  • Writer's picturePaul Saupe

Airline Woes Over Summer Strikes

Updated: May 15, 2023

Introduction


The Aviation sector was hit hard during the pandemic, with a cumulative loss of over USD 200 billion according to IATA (International Air Transport Association). As a result, airlines and airports have had to continually adapt to survive.


Since the start of the pandemic, the Aviation sector has had to contend with unprecedented disruption and respond accordingly, from preparing operations in accordance with Covid-19 travel restrictions, to trimming down and furloughing staff.


IATA analysis estimates that by September 2021 there were 2.3 million fewer direct Aviation jobs globally than there had been in 2019, a 21% reduction compared to pre Covid-19 levels (Source: IATA). In the UK, 51% of passenger transport jobs were classed as furloughed as of 31st July 2021, according to UK Government figures (Source: gov.uk).


Travel suspensions and restrictions were imposed by governments, often with little international coordination and at short notice, causing substantial disruption. However, as vaccination rates increased (particularly in Europe and North America), confidence in travel increased. More recently, borders have reopened, travel and entry requirements have eased, and international travel has returned.


All these developments occurred in relatively rapid succession, giving airlines little time to adjust. Travel demand appears to have rebounded significantly faster than expected; but with 2.3 million fewer workers. The resulting staff shortages have led to cancellations and major delays, none of which were limited to any one airline, airport or even country.

Further compounding passenger woes are several strikes being planned by various airline groups across Europe. The walkouts affect full service airlines such as British Airways, SAS and Lufthansa; and low cost carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair. It is estimated that in the UK alone over 700 workers are set to strike over the British summer period, demanding pay increases and the reinstatement of pay cuts implemented during the pandemic.


The fact that this action coincides with the summer period where demand is expected to approach pre Covid-19 levels, has forced the UK government to intervene and introduce a maximum capacity limit from 900 flights per day for July and August to 825 flights per day in July, then 850 in August. In addition to the UK government restrictions, Heathrow introduced a capacity cap to help further reduce delays throughout the summer. The capacity cap that was put in place stated that the maximum number of daily departing passengers that airlines, airports, and ground handlers can serve over the summer is restricted to 100,000. This capacity cap came in to play on 12th July and will run until September 2022.


Post Covid-19 Recovery


Using VV Aviation data we’ve examined some of the planned strike action, analysing the more prominent UK based airlines’ pre and post Covid-19 demand by analysing a full 2019 calendar year versus the first 6 months of 2022 (Jan-June).


Figure 1 shows how the airlines are performing so far this year, by looking at the number of international flights performed in the first 6 months of 2022 versus 2019.


British Airways and easyJet are on course to closely match the number of flights they performed in 2019, if rate projections run true. Ryanair, renowned for reacting to a crisis, have already outperformed 2019 rates by almost three times compared to 2019.

Figure 1: Comparison of number of flights performed by UK airlines in 2019 and 2022.

Covid-19 Effects on Routes


Comparing 2019’s routes versus the first six months of 2022, we have seen a complete change in the routes. Figure 2 shows that British Airways’ top route in 2019 was London Heathrow to Barcelona, while easyJet’s was London Gatwick to Amsterdam, and Ryanair’s was London Stansted to Lisbon.

Figure 2: Top routes by airline in 2019.

In comparison to Figure 2, Figure 3 shows that British Airways’ top route is now London Heathrow to Geneva, with easyJet’s being London Gatwick to Geneva, and Ryanair’s top route being London Gatwick to Dublin.

Figure 3: Top routes by airline in 2022.

Figure 4 shows the number of routes that were being operated in 2019 compared with those operated in the first 6 months of 2022.

Figure 4: Number of routes flown by UK airlines in 2019 and 2022.

VV Aviation’s Aircraft Activity data allows us to visualise the streamlining of routes.


Post Covid-19 Demand


Figure 5 shows the number of flights operated month on month by airlines between January and June 2022.

Figure 5: Number of flights flown month by month for the first half of 2022.

In the first three months of 2022, we saw a high growth rate in the number of flights being operated since April, at which point the growth has diminished, further flatlining and reducing in May.


Conclusion


Covid-19 and the resulting travel downturn exacted a harsh toll on the commercial passenger industry, with the speed of the disruption and the scale of the uncertainty impacting severely on jobs in the industry. The rebound appears to be no less chaotic, with staff (perhaps unsurprisingly) proving significantly harder to recruit and deploy than to let go. There are lessons to be learned in terms of improving the industry’s resilience: not least that, it is not enough to survive a downturn, it is just as important to survive the recovery.


VV Aviation data as of July 2022.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog is to provide general information and not to provide advice or guidance in relation to particular circumstances. Readers should not make decisions in reliance on any statement or opinion contained in this blog.

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