With the pandemic still impacting badly on the aviation sector, a stark new warning has come that passenger numbers for Brussels airport will not return to pre-crisis levels until 2024.
Airport CEO Arnaud Feist has said the airport is operating at about 10% of normal capacity, adding, “that is still a long way from the traffic levels necessary to ensure the airport is profitable.”
Feist was speaking on Tuesday July 8th at a meeting of the Commission Mobilité et Affaires sociales de la Chambre in Brussels. He said the airport, to be viable, needs to operate at around 50-70% capacity but this is predicted to be 25 per cent next month, the peak month of the holiday season. The airport faces reported losses of up to €200 million as a result of the crisis.
Several of the airlines operating out of Zaventem and elsewhere have announced cuts due to the impact of the pandemic. Brussels Airlines, the Belgian national carrier, is reportedly reducing the number of aircraft in its 54-strong fleet by 30% to 38 and slashing its workforce by one-quarter.
It is not alone as other airlines in Europe have been quick to make big cuts to their operations, with few expecting traffic to return to previous peaks before 2023 at the soonest.
Although it has now resumed partial operations, the Irish based, low-cost giant Ryanair all but grounded its fleet since the end of March. In April, the airline operated just 600 scheduled passenger flights, less than 1% of the capacity it had originally planned.
The carrier has warned that cuts of up to 3,000 jobs may be necessary as it gears up for a post-crisis recovery will take at least two years.
The huge Lufthansa Group grounded the vast majority of flights from late March but, from the start of June, it doubled the number of aircraft operating to 160.
Another major European carrier, Air France-KLM has operated a skeleton programme providing just 5% of previously planned capacity while the UK based EasyJet fears cuts of up to 30% of its more than 15,000 staff. It expects to operate a fleet of 302 aircraft by the end of 2021 – some 51 fewer than originally expected.
SAS, the Scandinavian carrier, may have to cut up to 5,000 full-time posts and warns it is likely to take “some years” before air travel demand returns to pre-crisis levels.
However, a spokesman for Brussels airport told this site that it was not all bad news, saying, “Since the restart of non-essential travels within Europe on the 15 June and as more countries reopened their borders, we have been adding more destinations to its network and, by the beginning of August this will have increased to 140 destinations. Things are a bit different this year because of the coronavirus crisis and the ban on traveling to certain countries, mainly outside Europe.”
During this week, around 560 flights will be departing, about 80 a day. Additional flights could of course be added in line with any last-minute bookings, given that many holiday-makers are still in the process of planning their holidays and looking into the possibilities.
Brussels Airport has hit the 15,000 passengers per day mark. While still far off the traditional summer holiday figures, it is an encouraging number that is growing every week. By the end of July, the airport should hit the 20,000 passengers per day mark. In total, it is expected that one million passengers over the two-month holiday period will transit through the airport.