Stagnation instead of recovery

DFS, the German air navigation service provider, does not expect air traffic volumes in Germany to stage a quick comeback. According to its latest forecast, volumes will only reach about 45 percent of their pre-pandemic levels by December. A return to the traffic situation of the previous year is not expected until 2025.

30.09.2020.- The upswing that was being experienced during the corona pandemic has stalled. After traffic grew in June to August, mainly due to tourist flows within Europe, the recent lengthening and broadening of travel restrictions is expected to reduce demand for flights significantly. At the same time, intercontinental traffic is not expected to provide any stimulus for growth in the fourth quarter of 2020 and a recovery in business travel is still not in sight.

In light of this, DFS has adjusted its projections for the further growth in air traffic. In its current forecast, it assumes that traffic will stagnate at the current level. In August and September 2020, DFS controlled only 45 percent of the prior-year-period traffic. "Traffic volumes are likely to remain at this level and there are no signs of a significant upturn so far. We expect traffic in the corona year 2020 to more than halve compared with the previous year," said DFS CEO Prof Klaus-Dieter Scheurle.

Volumes not seen since the 90's

At the beginning of the pandemic, DFS had still assumed that traffic volumes would slowly rally towards the end of the year – from 45 percent in September to 75 percent in December. "The rising infection rates as well as the testing and quarantine regulations for returnees are dampening the growth which we had expected back then," said Prof Scheurle. If this trend continues, DFS will probably control around 1.5 million flights under instrument flight rules (IFR) in 2020. This is the lowest value seen in German airspace since reunification; 1.65 million flights were logged in 1991.

DFS has also adjusted its forecast for the long-term development in light of this situation. "The first Covid-19 vaccines are expected to be available in 2021. Due to the long-term change in travel behaviour, we assume that the traffic volumes we had before the pandemic will not be reached again until 2025," said the CEO. However, the recovery will start from a lower level than was expected in the spring. For 2021, DFS expects traffic to increase to 60 percent of the pre-pandemic level. Afterwards, DFS expects steady growth of ten percentage points in each of the following years.

"Co-ordinated action is an imperative."

Prof Scheurle reports that he is following the current developments in air traffic with great concern. "There is currently a raft of different travel restrictions, quarantine rules and testing strategies in place that prevent airlines from resuming normal flight operations. For a return to normality, a coordinated approach at international, or at least European level, is an imperative."
In principle, he is confident that air transport will also master this crisis, said the CEO. "Airlines, airports and air navigation service providers are the backbone of a networked world. The worldwide distribution of vaccines for the corona virus alone will be a logistical challenge. This is where aviation will make a significant difference."

 The line graph above shows the traffic trend in 2020 month by month from January to December. The DFS forecast from April is represented by the blue line and the forecast from September by the red line. The black line shows the actual traffic figures.

The DFS forecasts from April (blue line) and September 2020 (red line) for the traffic growth 2019-2025.

The line graph above shows the traffic trend in 2020 month by month from January to December. The DFS forecast from April is represented by the blue line and the forecast from September by the red line. The black line shows the actual traffic figures.


The line graph above shows the traffic trend for 2019-2025 as a percentage of the 2019 volumes. The DFS forecast from April is shown by the blue line and the forecast from September 2020 by the red line.

Media contact:
Kristina Kelek
Telephone: +49 6103 707-4161

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH
, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with 5,600 employees as at 30 June 2020. DFS ensures the safe and punctual flow of air traffic over Germany. Around 2,200 air traffic controllers guide up to 10,000 flights in German airspace every day, more than three million movements every year. This makes Germany the country with the highest traffic volume in Europe. The company operates control centres in Langen, Bremen, Karlsruhe and Munich as well as control towers at the 16 designated international airports in Germany. The subsidiary DFS Aviation Services GmbH markets and sells products and services related to air navigation services, and provides air traffic control at nine regional airports in Germany and at London Gatwick Airport and Edinburgh Airport in the UK. DFS has been working on the integration of drones into air traffic since 2016 and has set up a joint venture, Droniq GmbH, with Deutsche Telekom.