After only just beginning to see some real post-pandemic turnaround, the new Omicron variant has already started hitting global airlines hard.
Covid seems determined to not allow humanity to catch its breath, with Omicron already spread across the globe and affecting industries on an international level. Aviation, battle-scarred and exhausted from its previous run-ins with the virus, now has to face this new threat and the industry halting restrictions it brings with it head-on. Passengers, wary of travelling during another outbreak, have begun to steer clear of international flights. The European trade body, ACI Europe, released figures recently detailing a 20% fall in European airport passenger numbers in the three weeks since Omicron was first reported. Load factors in inbound and outbound European flights also fell to 54%, sparking fears of another massive pandemic blow to the industry. Things have been improving in the last week, however, with passenger numbers rising by 9% alongside load factors bumping up by 2%. An improvement, but still not great, especially considering that this recent outbreak has halted a promising pandemic recovery for the industry. “Last week’s data shows that only ‘visiting family and relatives’ travel is somehow holding up for now, as Europeans are craving getting together and reuniting with loved ones for Christmas.” Stated ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec.
What will happen when that demographic goes home after the holidays? ACI doesn’t think it’ll be anything good, forecasting that the end of the year could end up seeing a 60% decline in passenger traffic when compared to pre-pandemic levels. What’s more, the corporation claim that Omicron could continue to pose a real threat to pandemic recovery going into the first quarter of 2022, with Jankovec claiming that this will “primarily depend on whether governments continue with knee-jerk reactions or not.” He does make a very good point. Countries across Europe have already brought in sweeping Covid restrictions in the face of the new strain, despite recent reports that it is nowhere near as severe as previous versions of the virus. Already we’ve seen carriers such as RyanAir slashing their earnings guidance in response to the decrease in travel volume, with Lufthansa also stating it plans to cut around 10% of its winter schedule. Analyst Alex Irving seems to think this trend will continue, stating how “Ryanair, EasyJet and Wizz Air all operate in broadly the same market, It’s highly unlikely the same pressures affecting Ryanair aren’t hitting other airlines.” In standard Covid fashion then, things werelooking up until our viral friend had to come along and ruin them again. I just hope for the industry’s sake that this current outbreak doesn’t last as long as previous ones.