Airlines warn of airspace saturation and already foresee delays

“We are concerned about air traffic congestion,” says Javier Gándara, president of the Airline Association (ALA). “Unfortunately, it is a problem again. The punctuality of arrivals is approaching the levels of 2019. We thought that it would not worry us for a long time. At the levels we are at, we should not be seeing these delays, above all we are worried about the summer of 2022 “, has indicated during the presentation of the perspectives of the operators for the next months.

Brussels investigates whether the purchase of Air Europa by the company that owns Iberia damages the supply of flights in Spain

Brussels investigates whether the purchase of Air Europa by the company that owns Iberia damages the supply of flights in Spain

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“Airspace, capacity and resource congestion are the same causes. We see problems in different places, such as France, somewhat less in Germany, 80% of the delays that affect Spain are generated outside ”, summarized Gándara. “We are going to have the same problems much sooner than we thought,” he stressed. For this reason, it urges that the creation of the Single European Sky be launched, especially at a time when it is still far from recovering the pre-pandemic normality.

More police at airports

Gándara has also asked “to increase the number of National Police in airports with more international traffic to avoid crowds like those experienced last summer.” He claims this due to the queues at passport controls in recent months, in the case of passengers from the United Kingdom and from non-EU countries, at the main airports in the network. “We are also concerned about next summer,” he acknowledged.

The sector already sees the recovery, although it does not reach normality. Between April and September, an average of 58% of the flights that existed in the same period of 2019 have been recovered; and slightly less passengers 42%. If you look at the whole of the year, the recovery of commercial flights is 51% and 36% in the number of passengers. As for the routes, 80% have already been retaken.

“What we hope is that this winter the recovery will continue, it will be consolidated in 2022 and in 2023 we will reach the levels of traffic prior to the pandemic,” says Gándara, although he assumes the uncertainty due to the evolution of Covid. Between October 2021 and March 2022, airlines plan to operate 672,000 flights, 1.9% more than 2019, especially due to the pull of the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

What will happen to the prices of airline tickets?

The airline management recognizes that it is difficult to predict. “It will depend on how the supply and demand go, so that people fly again. Flights are not purchased as far in advance as before, many companies do not know with certainty what they are going to operate in December ”.

The problem is the rise in oil. The president of ALA acknowledges that there are companies that have protected balances with future contracts; others do not. “Fuel is 30% of the costs of any airline company; and the fact that it goes up or could go up more is a pressure on costs ”.

“The prices will depend on the balance. If you have to sacrifice profitability, then we will continue to do so ”, he assumes, in an attempt to stimulate demand.

Regarding the expansion of the El Prat airport, ALA was in favor of expanding the Barcelona facility “From the first moment, we defended it. One of the reasons was the hub, but another was prior. Before the pandemic it was saturated some hours of the day and the expansion would allow more resilience and capacity, because before the pandemic there were very high delays. In the best of cases it will be a delay of the enlargement, in the worst, that it is not done ”, has summarized Gándara. “If normality is restored in 2023, it is likely to return to that situation. We will have to see how to minimize it ”.

Employment situation

The airline sector maintains 4,500 in ERTE of the 17,000 that were in this situation in April 2020. “We have insisted that, although the percentage of flights is growing, the occupancy is not there. It is a changing demand, it is good news that the ERTEs have been extended until February ”, indicated the president of ALA. “It depends on the profile of each company, some are distributing the workload, taking and putting people in the ERTE. What we want is a recovery ”.

Another of the loose fringes of the sector is the solvency of the companies, after the millionaire public aid requested by the Covid. “So far in the 21st century, 30 airlines have disappeared. It is not necessary to disregard that some more can disappear. We have strengthened solvency and capital and in the short term it does not seem a plausible option, but it cannot be ruled out. ”

“When it is necessary to return these credits, which represent 120% of annual income in normal times, we will have to see how the market situation is,” Gándara has acknowledged.

“Consolidation is a trend that was already there. The United States already ahead. There, the big five operators have 85% of the market; in the EU it is 60% ”, although it assumes that the regulations, competition and property control are different.

And with regard to the merger of Iberia and Air Europa, it leaves it up in the air, depending on what the companies consider, the requirements for repayment of the aid and the EU Competition decision.


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