The head of the Eurowings airline, Jens Bischof, recently spread a noticeably good mood. Much of the fleet is back in the air, business travelers are slowly coming back after the summer vacation, and sometime next year the airline will be using as many aircraft again as it was before the Corona crisis. It will be much more competitive and significantly expand its market share, he promised.
Finding a connection between Eurowings and competitiveness has been practically impossible since the Lufthansa subsidiary was founded, but that’s another story. The bigger question hidden behind Bischof’s prognoses is whether aviation has already had most of its work on the way out of the crisis, or whether it will suffer massively for a long time to come. So far, it has to be said that the sector will feel the economic consequences of the pandemic for a very, very long time.
The comparatively good news has simple reasons: There are now fewer pandemic-related travel restrictions within Europe. The summer business 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 in the lockdowns, had the money to do so.
However, the traffic flows are regionally limited and the development is not running parallel everywhere: The USA has made an astonishingly quick comeback, but the airlines are now increasingly canceling flights again. The many people who refuse to vaccinate are also ensuring that the crisis is prolonged in the travel industry. Europe initially experienced a slower recovery, but this now appears to be continuing. In Asia, once the engine of world air traffic, little or nothing is happening. The demand and the restrictions correlate with the low vaccination rate. Exceptions like the strong domestic business in China confirm the rule.
Europeans still need special permits for flights to the USA
On long-haul routes, the airlines continue to fly only a fraction of their previous program. The economic damage to companies like Lufthansa, which earn the most money in intercontinental traffic, can hardly be measured. So it’s understandable that the industry is pushing for other, more sensible travel rules than those that currently apply. In many countries, people who have been vaccinated are getting more and more rights back in everyday life. However, this does not seem to apply to air travel: Europeans still need special permits for flights to the USA, and most recently the EU has proposed that member states only allow Americans to enter the country for important reasons. After all, the restrictions on trips to Europe should not apply to vaccinated people.
But that should generally be the way to go. Anyone who has been vaccinated or recovered must, in principle, be allowed to travel. Even in the early phase of the pandemic, when there were no vaccines, only a few were infected with the coronavirus during 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 useful 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 at all. From a climate protection perspective, the answer is clear: no way. The sector is facing a transformation that is 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 in times of video conferences, and some short trips to the beach can no longer be justified. If the airlines don’t lapse into old behavior patterns and still offer more seats, some things can be regulated through the higher price. It would be economically in their own interest and environmentally desirable anyway.