This Month in Aviation: December 2021

We’ve reached the end of what has been another tough year for aviation, and begin 2022 with just a small flickering of hope for a positive (if you’ll pardon the pun) return to normality this year with Omicron raging. Overall, 2021 saw UK international flights fall 71% from 2019 levels. Nevertheless, as I begin writing, the UK government have just announced the easing of some testing requirements for vaccinated international arrivals. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has now meant that strict entry requirements at the border will have little to no effect on Covid numbers.

As we begin this year, I’d like to wish you all the best for a happy and successful 2022. I’ll now leave you with some of my favourite articles of the month before we explore what we’ve been up to at the Final Approach.

Top reads of the month:

Dissertation Research and Exams: All Systems Go!

My third year at university is now well and truly underway. A dissertation to write, exams to take, and lots to do. It will most certainly be a challenging year – but resilience is a well sought-after aviation skill, and I’m confident I’ll come out of this year with bags of it.

Talking of aviation skills, I’m preparing my dissertation research and plan to investigate the skills desired by the industry, and how the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped recruitment needs in airports and airlines across the UK. Do let me know if you feel you can contribute in any way, it would be much appreciated! So far third year has proved difficult but also a lot of fun. My degree is becoming real, and I’ve also started work on my plans for post-university too – a Postgraduate degree in Airport Planning! I find it’s always good to have a goal and next step to aim for, it keeps me on track and gives me the motivation to work hard too.

Alongside my studies, I also went with Bucks Aviation Society to visit the Emirates Aviation Experience in North Greenwich, London. It was a good day out, and gave insight into Emirates’ operation and the sheer scale of it. I do recommend going along if you can, it’s an affordable day out and their gift shop is full of goodies!

I look forward to January, in which we’ll no doubt experience more of the industry – and will be faced with some important looming deadlines too.

Industry Metrics & Update

December has of course been a month ravaged by the Omicron variant and the restrictions surrounding it. European flight numbers were around 77% of those flown in 2019. When looking at UK figures, this drops to just 66% (Source: EUROCONTROL). Do bear in mind that in almost all cases woeful load factor levels are accompanying this.

European air traffic levels in December 2021 (Source: EUROCONTROL).

When looking at Q3 of 2021, industry-wide losses diminished compared to Q2 – as air travel gradually recovered and cargo revenues remained robust. Omicron has put a halt to this and as a result airline share prices have fallen globally. The global airline share price index is 37% below pre-crisis levels. However, with Omicron now prevalent worldwide, some restrictions are starting to ease and travel companies remain optimistic that governments will cooperate in enabling a route to regrowth in 2022.

Airline share price figures, taken from an IATA report.

Heathrow estimate that 2022 will see passenger numbers reach 45 million, just over half the 80.9 million recorded in 2019. Albeit with a slow start to the year expected, the hub airport also anticipate the need for a major recruitment drive for the summer. Provided that stakeholders can work together to forge a pathway out of restrictions, the airport are gearing up for more than 10,000 additional staff being required in the summer.

Omicron has dented recovery, that much is certain, but we have hope for optimism this year. Booster programmes are ongoing globally (though with continued disparity between developing and developed nations), and restrictions are becoming less severe with every incoming variant as we slowly learn to live with Covid-19. It is only a matter of time and patience before mass travel restrictions stop becoming the go-to instant response for governments globally.

Airport Slot Regulations Continue to Gain Headlines

The European Commission’s relaxation of slot rules, to allow carriers to use just 50% of their slots without losing them, is coming under increasing scrutiny from airports and consumers across the continent. A YouGov survey conducted on behalf of Gatwick Airport and Wizz Air found that 56% of those planning to fly in the next year have concerns about airfares increasing due to the lack of competition these slot waivers have brought about. Lack of airline choice and destination connectivity are the key drivers which consumers have concerns about.

Whilst many are advocating a return to normality, with the return of the 80/20 slot rule, the European Commission have announced a 64% usage level for the summer season this year. There remains great uncertainty in the market, and so it would not be realistic to bring back the 80% rule. ‘Ghost flights’ are of course a significant problem, and airlines must work with regulators to keep rules achievable, but also fair for the consumer and the environment.

What’s Coming Up on The Final Approach?

This month we’ve got a lot of university commitments to attend to, but we’ll continue to work on content for the blog and events to go to throughout the month. Overall this looks set to be a great year for The Final Approach.

What we’ve got planned for this month:

  • Coming later this week, a blog all about how to keep updated on the latest industry headlines
  • We’ll continue to keep you updated on our feature of Bomber Command Navigator Alan Green
  • All about our visit to the Emirates Aviation Experience

I do wish you a happy and healthy start to the new year, do be sure to get in touch if you’d like to collaborate or simply chat with us about all things aviation!

I'm an avid writer and airport fanatic. I'm currently studying Airline and Airport Management at Bucks New University and hope to work in airport operations in the future.

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