Airbus sees narrow-body jets leading air traffic recovery

written by Hannah Dowling | March 31, 2021
A320 family in formation (Airbus)

Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said on Tuesday that he expects demand for medium-haul air travel to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, far faster than long-haul travel.

The CEO said that some of the industry’s trusted narrow-bodied workhorses, including the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families of aircraft, will lead the industry’s recovery, and that bigger jets are likely to continue to fall out of favour with airlines due to lack of demand and increased running costs.

Faury said on the Eurocontrol webcast on Tuesday that so far 2021 recovery prospects have been “very disappointing”, largely due to third-wave infections and mutant COVID strains that began to spread throughout Europe in January.

Much of Europe continues to remain in lockdown with strict controls on borders, as the European Union continues its rollout of the COVID vaccine.

The EU has been criticised for its vaccine rollout trailing behind that of other nations, particularly the US and UK.

Despite the disappointing recovery efforts to date, Faury is confident that medium-haul travel on narrow-bodied jets will be the first industry sector to see a meaningful recovery to pre-pandemic passenger capacity.

“We think on the single-aisle business, on the narrow-body planes, it is probably going to be around 2023 [until pre-pandemic capacity is met], and for the wide-body planes around 2024, 2025; we don’t really know,” Faury said.

“There is more uncertainty on how fast and how strongly the international traffic will recover.”

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Currently, international industry bodies have forecast that the industry as a whole will recover to pre-COVID levels of passenger traffic and capacity in 2024.

Taking a similar approach to others in the industry, Faury quashed concerns that COVID will permanently change the nature of travel and business, stating that travel demand will recover to be “not very different from what it was before”.

Earlier this month, United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby made similar comments.

Speaking on a CAPA live webcast, Kirby said that while many have predicted a near total death of business travel, he believes that ultimately, the importance of human relationships in the nature of business will prevail, and see business travel demand return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Business travel is not transactional, it’s about relationships. Going to events and having drinks, that’s where you get to know people. It’s a question of human nature instead of technology and human nature is not going to change,” Kirby said.

“The first time someone loses a sale to a competitor who showed up in person is the last time we’ll do a sales call on Zoom. People were having this conversation 25 years ago with video conferencing and the death of business travel, it was wrong then, it’s wrong now.”

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