Air traffic in Europe might not return to its pre-COVID levels until 2029, Eurocontrol has said.
In a report published on Friday, the Brussels-based air traffic management agency said the number of flights in European airspace between January and April this year was down 65 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.
Depending on vaccine rollouts and the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against new variants, the body predicted three different models for the future of European air travel.
The best-case scenario assumed travel restrictions were lifted across the board by summer 2021 and predicted a recovery to 2019 traffic levels by 2024.
But if vaccine drives are patchy in Europe and globally, Eurocontrol said, this would hamper flights as well as passenger confidence and could delay a recovery until close to the end of the decade.
The organisation predicts the reality will be somewhere between the two extremes. Director-General Eamonn Brennan said: "The situation remains very challenging for European aviation.
"We’re heading into summer 2021 and most restrictions are still in place despite encouraging progress on the vaccination front.
"We’ll probably have around 50 per cent of 2019 traffic for all of 2021 (5.5 million flights). By the end of next year, traffic will only have recovered to 72 per cent of 2019 levels, and will only get back to close to where we were pre-pandemic by 2025.”