A U.S. airline trade group says that the grounding of Boeing’s new 737 MAX airliner and increasing concern over greenhouse gas emissions by commercial aviation will not stop a record number of Americans taking to the skies during this year’s 13-week summer vacation season.
A similar uptick is being expected in Europe, even with concerns about failing budget airlines and travel companies. However, Indian regulators have warned of a contraction in the market after years of double digit growth.
Airlines For America (A4A) expects a record 257.4 million Americans will fly between June 1 and August 31, up 3.4% year-on-year, or more than 93,000 more per day over summer 2018. At peak season – usually between July 20 and Aug. 10 – 3 million a day are expected to travel.
Most of the surge is expected in the domestic sector, with flights of less than 5,000 miles (8,000 km). Transatlantic and international flights from the USA, using the biggest and fastest aircraft, are expected to show a smaller rise.
There had been fears that the grounding of the Boeing 737-MAX 8 and MAX 9 two months ago due to safety fears after two fatal crashes would reduce capacity. But operators say it will have relatively little impact because just 72 MAXs had made it into operation with U.S. carriers. Airlines say they have around 110,000 more seats a day than 2018 partly because of decisions to stuff more seats into existing planes.
But John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist at A4A, told Forbes.com that carriers have been adding other new planes in the past year, as well as switching to regional jets made by Embraer and Bombardier – which are not the fastest planes but, at less than 100 seats, are more flexible. They also brought reserve planes back into service, re-jigged schedules to get more flying time and even replaced grounded 737-MAXs with mothballed or leased jets.
As a result, A4A says capacity will be up 4.25%, only slightly down on forecasts before the groundings.
UK air transport authorities are expecting a big summer too, kicking off with major sporting events such as the Monaco Grand Prix and Champions League Cup Final in Madrid.
Wendy Howard-Allen, head of service performance at Nats, the company providing air traffic control services in the UK, said the demand for air travel is increasing all the time.
“We’ve been planning for this busy summer period for a number of months – preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” she added.
There have also been fears for the charter carrier Thomas Cook Airlines, after its parent company Thomas Cook Holidays announced a profits warning. And earlier this year budget carriers WOW Air, Germania and FlyBMI went bankrupt.
Meanwhile, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation says domestic carriers transported 400,000 fewer passengers in April, 4.5% down on the 1.15 million people carried in April 2018. This contrasts sharply against a 2.5% rise in passengers year-on-year in the first three months of the year, and 18.6% growth in passengers reported over the whole of 2018.
The contraction comes in the wake of the 737 MAX groundings and Indian budget airline, Jet Airways, going bust in April. India’s new government is temporarily re-assigning Jet Airways’ slots at airports to other carriers to help bridge the capacity shortfall.