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European air traffic to continue to fall in 2012

Feb. 29, 2012, Brussels, Be. - The number of commercial flights in Europe will continue to fall this year because of the continent's economic troubles, air traffic agency Eurocontrol said Wednesday.


February 29, 2012
By The Associated Press

The agency forecast there will be a total of 9.7 million flights across Europe in 2012, 1.3 per cent less than last year. Trans-Atlantic flights from Germany, France, Britain, and other cities are expected to drop 1.4 per cent.

Eurocontrol said the downturn, which began in 2008, will last into next year. It predicted that the peak of 10 million flights in 2008 will not be reached again until at least 2014.

"As a result of the current poor economic outlook, which is for stagnation or weak growth, and the current traffic situation which saw cutbacks in flights … we now forecast a decline in 2012, followed by a weak recovery in 2013,'' the report said.

The recovery rate is expected to be slower than the last downturn — it took just four years for flight numbers in Europe to recover to previous highs after the 1980 oil price spike and the economic crisis of 2000.

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In recent months, Europe's outlook has darkened as austerity measures meant to cut debt take their toll on growth. The European Commission recently lowered its 2012 economic growth forecast for the European Union from 1.7 per cent to zero. Some large aviation markets, such as Britain, Spain, and Italy, are likely to fall back
into recession.

Besides weaker economic growth, Wednesday's report identified a number of other causes for the traffic decline. These included high fuel prices, the failures in February of the Spanish airline Spanair and Hungary's Malev, and the effects of the Arab Spring which has resulted in sharp reductions of flights to Tunisia and to Egypt.

Several carriers have been forced to reduce their timetables as a result of weak bookings during the winter months.

"The weakness of the European economy and the fuel price have already had a major impact on the airlines which have cut back on the number of flights harder and faster than we expected,'' said David Marsh, head of forecasts and traffic analysis at the Brussels-based agency.

On the positive side, the report said, airline traffic has continued to grow in the Baltics, the Netherlands, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. But this was not sufficient to reverse the overall negative trend.

The report said that overall, traditional scheduled carriers did slightly better in terms of maintaining flight numbers, while the low-cost carriers and the tourist charters were most affected by the drop in traffic to winter leisure markets.