Eurowings airline boss Jens Bischof recently broadcast a notorious good humor. Much of the fleet is back in the air, business travelers are slowly returning after summer vacation, and next year the airline will again use as many planes as before the Corona crisis. . It will be much more competitive and significantly increase its market share, he promised.
Finding a link between Eurowings and competitiveness has been practically impossible since the creation of the Lufthansa subsidiary, but that is another story. The biggest question hidden behind Bischof’s prognosis is whether aviation has already done most of its work in coming out of the crisis, or whether it will suffer massively for a long time to come. So far, it is clear that the sector will suffer the economic consequences of the pandemic for a very, very long time.
The good news in comparison has simple reasons: There are now fewer travel restrictions linked to the pandemic in Europe. The summer activity has therefore gone very well for airlines such as Eurowings which serve many holiday destinations on short and medium-haul routes. Many of them really wanted to travel again and, because they could save money while in lockdown, had the money to do so.
However, traffic flows are regionally limited and development does not parallel everywhere: the United States has made a surprisingly rapid comeback, but airlines are again canceling more flights. The many people who refuse to get vaccinated are also ensuring that the crisis continues in the travel industry. Europe initially experienced a slower recovery, but it now appears to be continuing. In Asia, once the engine of global air traffic, little or nothing is happening. Demand and restrictions correlate with the low vaccination rate. Exceptions like the strong domestic activity in China confirm the rule.
Europeans still need special permits for flights to the United States
On long-haul routes, airlines continue to fly only a fraction of their previous schedule. The economic damage for companies like Lufthansa, which earn the most money in intercontinental traffic, is difficult to measure. It is therefore understandable that the industry is pushing for other travel rules that make more sense than what currently applies. In many countries, people who have been vaccinated are finding more and more rights in everyday life. However, this does not seem to apply to air travel: Europeans still need special permits for flights to the United States, and more recently the EU has proposed that member states only allow Americans to enter the country only for important reasons. After all, restrictions on travel to Europe should not apply to people who have been vaccinated.
But that should generally be the way to go. Anyone who is vaccinated or cured must, in principle, be allowed to travel. Even at the start of the pandemic, when there were no vaccines, only a few became infected with the coronavirus while on a flight or at the airport. Because there are efficient air filters and strict rules on board. Now that two-thirds of adults in Europe are vaccinated, blanket travel bans are even less helpful than they were a year ago.
In the longer term, however, there is also the question of whether air traffic should return to its old shape and size. From a climate protection perspective, the answer is clear: no way. The sector is facing a transformation that is only just beginning, and it depends on the success of synthetic fuels, which could drastically reduce the negative environmental impacts of aviation.
What is clear is that part of the old business is lost. Some, even if by far not all business trips, are no longer necessary during videoconferencing, and some small trips to the beach can no longer be justified. If the airlines don’t fall back into the old ways and always offer more seats, some things can be regulated through a higher price. It would be economically in their own interest and environmentally desirable anyway.