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Are flights around Europe returning to normal after borders reopen?

After coronavirus lockdowns that brought civil aviation to nearly a complete halt air traffic is slowly resuming in Europe as borders reopen, but tens of thousands of jobs are still hanging in the balance.

Are flights around Europe returning to normal after borders reopen?
AFP

The lockdowns saw air travel plunge by 94.3 percent in April compared with the same month last year, when measured by kilometres travelled by paying passengers. 

IATA, the leading trade association for the aviation industry, believes the recovery in air travel is likely to be determined not only by the pace of restrictions being lifted but also by the extent health worries keep people  from travelling.

IATA expects the recovery to begin in domestic air travel, then extend to continental travel and finally, at the end of the year, to long-haul inter-continental flights.

It sees air travel returning to its pre-coronavirus levels only in 2023.

Most travel restrictions within Europe have been lifted and starting Wednesday nationals from 15 countries are allowed into most EU countries.

The United States, Russia and Brazil — where the virus is still spreading quickly — were left off the list.

In Europe, during the week of June 15-21, an average of 7,706 flights were recorded each day, a 78 percent drop from the same week last year, according to Eurocontrol which manages European airspace.

The airlines operating the most flights were Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Wizz Air, the Norwegian regional airline Wideroe, and Air France.

The busiest airports were Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam-Schiphol, London-Heathrow and Istanbul.  

The most popular destinations in Europe

Lisbon was the top destination for tickets booked in the first half of June, beating out Paris, Amsterdam, Athens, Rome, Madrid, Frankfurt, Vienna, Barcelona and London, according to data released Monday by ForwardKeys, an outfit which analyses trends in air travel.

Last year during the same period, London topped reservations, and its relegation is due to quarantine measures, according to the firm.

IATA's chief economist Brian Pierce said nations which have imposed quarantines have seen drops in traffic similar to a complete ban on flights. 

IATA has instead urged authorities to instead adopt sanitary measures like requiring travellers to wear masks, conducting temperature checks and requiring health declarations.

Worst yet to come? 

Government support measures for the industry “have saved thousands of jobs and are enabling airlines to keep connectivity going,” said IATA's regional vice president for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, last month.

“But I'm afraid the worst may be yet to come,” he said, as airlines rely on the summer holiday travel season to earn profits that carry them through the lean winter months.

“There will be no summer cushion” this year, he said.

IATA expects European airlines to suffer losses of $21.5 billion this year compared to a profit of $6.5 billion last year. It believes 6 to 7 million jobs linked to aviation are at risk.

Job cuts 

Airlines and other businesses in the industry have already begun to cut jobs.

In recent days alone, Airbus has unveiled 15,000 job cuts — 11 percent of its workforce — as it seeks to adjust to the plunge in the commercial aviation business and as airlines eye delaying taking delivery of new aircraft.

SSP, the British owner of food outlets in railway stations and airports worldwide including sandwich chain Upper Crust and Italian takeaway Caffe Ritazza, said it may cut up to 5,000 UK jobs as the coronavirus pandemic keeps customers away.

Airport services group Swissport that provides check-in agents and cargo-handlers for airlines announced it was eliminating 4,000 jobs in Britain.

Swiss duty-free shop operator Dufry, which has more than 2,400 shops and 31,000 employees across the globe, said it plans to reduce its spending on staff by up to 35 percent.

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How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules

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