According to data compiled by Europe’s air navigation agency Eurocontrol, the exceptional decline in 2020 air traffic due to the Covid pandemic travel restrictions led to an overall fall in CO2 emissions from flights across Europe of 56.9% last year compared to 2019. Using the global standard of assigning CO2 emissions to the country of departure, the decline was a similar 54.5%. The data shows a considerable variation between countries in their CO2 reductions, which was driven by differences in the local fleet (lighter or heavier, younger or older aircraft), flight distances (short or long haul), mix of market segments (cargo, scheduled and business aviation) and by the extent of Covid restrictions on flights. For example, departing flights from Belgium were down by around half in 2020 but CO2 emissions only reduced by 30%. In a new set of traffic scenarios for the period up to June 2021, Eurocontrol expects air traffic to be around 64% down in January 2021 compared to January 2019 and says the situation is quickly deteriorating as many countries across Europe are imposing stricter travel controls in response to the latest waves of Covid and risks associated with new variants.
Europe’s major aviation countries experienced declines in CO2 emissions from departing flights around the European average: France -55%, Germany -53% and the United Kingdom -60%. Tourism-reliant countries recorded steeper declines, for example Greece -64%, Italy -65% and Spain -64%. The reduction in emissions from flights from the Netherlands was just 41%. (See table below.)
A major reason for the decline in emissions of just 30% from Belgian flights was due to the high proportion of cargo flights, which increased from 11% to 25% in 2020 compared to 2019, reported a Eurocontrol ‘data snapshot’. Cargo flights use larger aircraft and fly further than the Belgian average, it said, and therefore generate above-average CO2 emissions. A second reason was that due to short-haul cancellations, the average scheduled flight was much longer than in 2019, so emitted more CO2.
Brussels Airport said its cargo operations had experienced greater demand than ever in 2020, experiencing a 2.2% year-on-year increase in cargo volumes. The strongest growth was in the full-freighter segment, which was up 43% on 2019, and express services saw a year-on-year increase of 18%. This year, the number of vaccine shipments from Brussels Airport is already rising.
“The year 2020 truly was a very unusual and difficult year for the aviation industry. Fortunately, our cargo department has been in great demand throughout the crisis, particularly for the transport of pharmaceuticals and perishables, and for e-commerce,” said the airport’s Chief Executive, Arnaud Feist. “The major role Brussels Airport played since the end of November in the transport of Covid-19 vaccines will undoubtedly continue throughout 2021.”
However, airlines are having to dramatically reduce their capacity with the stricter travel restrictions now being applied across Europe, said Eurocontrol.
“It is clear that the months of February and March will be exceptionally low across the network, except for cargo, some business traffic and skeleton schedule services,” predicted Eamonn Brennan, Director General of Eurocontrol. “Even April is expected to perform very poorly, with only a limited pick-up for the Easter period. Flights in Europe will probably only be around 25-30% of normal. It is a complete disaster for European aviation – an industry that’s already on its knees.”
At a global level, new forecasts from airports association ACI World indicate a slow, uneven and uncertain recovery in 2021. By the end of 2020, the global airport industry had experienced a reduction of more than 6 billion passengers, representing a decline of 64.2% on the previous year, according to ACI’s latest Covid-19 impact analysis. Its World Airport Traffic Forecasts report shows that over the next five years, passenger traffic worldwide is expected to grow at an annualised rate of +2.4%. While markets with significant domestic traffic are not expected to recover to pre-Covid levels before 2023, markets with a significant share of international traffic will recover much more slowly, expects ACI.
The report shows the Asia-Pacific and Latin America-Caribbean regions are predicted to experience the fastest growth, achieving five-year growth rates of +3.5% and +3.1%, respectively. Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North America will see a more modest expansion, with growth ranging from +1.2% to +1.9%, it says.
China is expected to become the largest passenger market in 2031, surpassing the US, and is projected to continue to dominate passenger rankings in 2040 with just over 3.6 billion passengers, an 18.3% share of the global passenger traffic market. The US and India follow, with 2.9 and 1.3 billion passengers, respectively. Together, the three countries will handle almost 40% of global passenger traffic.
The decline of CO2 emissions from European flights in 2020 compared with 2019:
Top photo: Vaccines being loaded at Brussels Airport