It could take up to nine years for the European aviation sector to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
That’s the worst-case-scenario warning from the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol).
However, the group, the central organisation for coordination and planning of air traffic control across Europe, predicts aviation could recover as soon 2024, if a vaccine is rolled out next year.
Eurocontrol, of which Ireland has been a member since 1965, has published its five-year forecast this week.
The report explores the potential recovery-time for European aviation in three scenarios.
The first scenario sees a viable coronavirus vaccine made widely available for travellers next year.
In this scenario, the group says the sector would benefit from renewed passenger confidence, allowing airlines to re-invest and re-hire, as demand for flights return.
Such a scenario would see aviation return to 2019 levels by 2024, according to the group.
The second scenario examines a situation where a viable vaccine is rolled out by the summer of 2022.
In this scenario, the group expects passenger confidence to return at a slower rate, with airlines undertaking some re-investment and re-hiring, and bringing back some long-haul flights.
This would see the aviation sector recover to 2019 levels by 2026, the report says.
Lastly, in the worst-case scenario, a vaccine is made available by 2022, but it is found to be ineffective. The covid-19 pandemic lingers, and passenger confidence remains low.
Eurocontrol says that, in this scenario, airlines will find it difficult to continue to operate as they did pre-covid.
As such, they say the sector may only return to 2019 levels by 2029.
Speaking on Newstalk this morning, Eurocontrol Director-General Eamon Brennan says a lot depends on whether countries are ready to roll out any vaccine quickly.
Mr Brennan also said Ireland is at “significant risk” from a slow recovery.
“In the past, you’ll see for instance in the global financial crisis, it took aviation eight years to recover from that,” he said.
“Even from 9/11 it took us two years – but this is much more systemic.”
Mr Brennan said that the debt currently being “piled on” by major European economies will have to be repaid at some point.
He said that, if no vaccine appears in the short term, some airlines will cease to operate, and others will “consolidate” by closing some routes permanently.
“We’re looking at a disimprovement in connectivity. Probably in the long run prices will start to move up, and of course there’s also the impact of Brexit,” he said.