Has the aviation industry turned the corner in the COVID-19 pandemic?

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Are we out of the COVID-19 pandemic? Evidence is growing that 2022 will be a year in which travel demand return to more normal levels.  

After Omicron led to tighter restrictions at the end of 2021, the last couple of weeks have seen several countries easing travel requirements, such as Australia, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the Philippines. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released some promising data on international ticket sales on February 17, 2022. 

Around January 25, 2022, the number of tickets sold was at about 38% of the same period in 2019. However, by February 8, 2022, this had jumped to 49%.    

IATA noted that this 11 percentage point improvement is the fastest such increase for any two-week period since the COVID-19 crisis began.  

“Momentum toward normalizing traffic is growing. Vaccinated travelers have the potential to travel much more extensively with fewer hassles than even a few weeks ago. This is giving growing numbers of travelers the confidence to buy tickets. And that is good news!” Wilie Walsh, director general of IATA commented in a press release.  

Airlines in Europe seem to be growing more confident too, with several starting to re-hire furloughed staff and add new routes in advance of a busy summer.  

Eurowings said in a press release on February 17, 2022, that flights to holiday destinations were getting booked out “in no time” and it was seeing increased demand for flights on business routes.  

The German government announced this week plans to gradually remove all Coronavirus restrictions by the end of March 2022.  

Eurowings said this was driving bookings, with tens of thousands each day, and that consequently the airline was adding flights to European cities, tourism destinations in Spain, Portugal and Italy, plus domestic business routes. 

 “Millions of people want to catch up on their holidays or meet their business contacts in person,” Eurowings CEO Jens Bischof said. “What we’re seeing in bookings is similar to when you try to get ketchup out of a bottle – nothing for ages, then loads at once”.  

In an interview with Aviation Week, Bischof said Eurowings would operate 110 aircraft this summer, including five A220 on wet lease from Air Baltic and 10 A320 on wet lease from Avion Express.  

Meanwhile, Scandinavian carrier SAS also said it was presenting a “more extensive” summer schedule with 120 destinations due to rising demand. It is reopening the Copenhagen to Boston route, adding departures to New York, plus said demand for flights to southern Europe is continuing to rise.  

British Airways also said it was adding a new daytime flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to London Heathrow “to support the return of business travel in 2022”.  

Finnair has commented that the pandemic is moving into an endemic phase, where COVID-19 will be treated like a regular infection, while Air France-KLM also noted that the last three months of 2021 marked a “turning point”.  

IATA’s Walsh concluded: “Travel restrictions have had a severe impact on people and on economies. They have not, however, stopped the spread of the virus. And it is time for their removal as we learn to live and travel in a world that will have risks of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.” 

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