Is aviation finding it's mojo again?

3rd April 2023

Three years on from the start of the first UK lockdown and the end of the first quarter of 2023 seemed like a good time to reflect on the current state of the aviation industry and see if we can now confidently look to the future.

From a UK perspective the start of the summer schedule has brought with it a raft of new routes both from the capital and regionally. New routes from London of note include British Airways to Georgetown, Guyana and Aruba, Rwandair now operating nonstop four times a week to Kigali, Wizz Air daily flights to Istanbul, Virgin Atlantic to the Maldives and Jet2 to Bourgas and Tivat from Stansted.

Regional gains include Ryanair re opening its Belfast base with 16 routes including Budapest and Valencia, Bristol gains an Aegean link to Athens, a seasonal flight to Rovaniemi for those seeking Santa Claus and a North African connection with EasyJet’s bi weekly service to Enfidha. Cardiff airport which has struggled with passenger numbers dropping to below 1 million and losing several carriers including Wizz Air can celebrate with the addition of Paris flights courtesy of Eastern Airways.

With China finally starting to lift restrictions routes to the country are returning for the first time in over 3 years. Air China became the first Chinese carrier to resume international service when they restarted nonstop service between Beijing and London last August however the flights were only one way outbound flights as the closure of China made inbound flights impossible. Finally from this weekend passengers can depart from Gatwick. Hainan will also restart weekly service to Dalian and Beijing from Manchester in October 2023.

The pandemic hasn’t stopped new market entrants either. In 2022 we first saw the bright red Airbus’s belonging to Play as they kicked off service from Stansted and Liverpool to Reykjavik allowing onward connections to their new routes to the East Coast of the US. Play was closely followed by Norse Atlantic kicking off with flights between London and Oslo and quickly adding transatlantic service to New York, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. Both of these carriers may feel very similar to some we have seen before but let’s hope 2023 is the year for them.

While the bulk of new routes for 2023 seem suited to leisure travelers it is also good to see that frequencies are also returning across key domestic and European routes and larger aircraft are returning to the skies. Glasgow airport saw an increase in capacity from Dubai in March with the return of A380 operations. It was sad to see the demise of Flybe mark 2 earlier this year but for many not a surprise, the carrier resurrected with a turbo prop only fleet and slim pickings of routes as most profitable routes had already been snapped up by competitors.

2022 saw aviation hit the media for all the wrong reasons with airports struggling to cope, airlines struggling for crew and passengers being overwhelmed by the changing requirements for their journeys. However airports are bullish in their plans for 2023 with many expecting to see growth on 2019, pre pandemic levels. 2022 saw UK airports handling 224 million passengers which equated to 75% of 2019 volumes. Bristol airport reached 89% of 2019 figures putting them at the top of the league table for 2022. It is clear to see that travel demand has returned to the UK market and as airlines increase resilience and performance this is likely to continue. The forthcoming Easter holidays will give airports and airlines their first real peak challenge.

General market feedback suggests fares are rising with Michael O’Leary of Ryanair saying last month he expected fares to increase by around 15% in line with demand and continuing high oil prices. New EU rules being put into place to cut carbon emissions could also see new ticket levies forcing seat prices up again.

The good news is that some elements of travel may be starting to get easier. Teesside Airport is the first in the UK to get new hand baggage scanners meaning liquid restrictions are finally scrapped and the airport is confident this will improve the passenger experience for summer 2023.All UK airports are likely to follow suit with the new technology ahead of the governments deadline of June 2024.

Although if you thought 2023 was the year for travel be sure to check your passport well in advance of your trip. Post Brexit if travelling to the EU your passport must have 6 months validity remaining and at the time of writing passport office workers are beginning a 5 week strike over pay.

So while it still feels like a bit of a mixed bag for the industry and some new challenges for passengers there are two certainties, the aviation industry and the people in it are passionate and resilient and our island nation wants to travel, be it to get back and do business face to face or to escape the British weather.

Written by Linzi Barber