Europe’s airlines look back on year of disruptions

Ash, snow and strikes combine to hold back market recovery

The Association of European Airlines, which represents Europe’s most important network carriers, has revealed a preliminary traffic estimate for 2010 of 335 million passengers boarded by its members – 10 million more than in 2009. Using the industry standard measure of passenger-kilometres, this represents a 2.5% increase over 2009.

The figures are based on monthly returns of AEA’s members’ traffic up to November, and weekly reports for the last month of the year. 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.

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. Figures produced by Eurocontrol estimate that 160,000 flights within Europe were cancelled during 2010. Around 100,000 of these were attributed to the volcanic eruption, but the remaining 60,000 represented a 150% increase ver 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%-6% above the previous year’s depressed level.

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