The grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX is having a modest but “not insignificant” impact on air traffic in Europe, according to Eurocontrol.

Most perceptible is the effect of postponed MAX deliveries on expected traffic growth. The air traffic management organization estimates a growth reduction of 0.3-0.4 percentage points by the end of the year if the MAX does not return to service by then. That extends to 0.6-0.9 points by Easter “in a worst-case scenario.”

The organization's statistical view of the MAX impact was released against a backdrop of slow growth—just 0.4% in August. For a typical week in mid-August, the loss of MAX flights reduced the overall growth in flights by around 0.15 percentage points.

“A small effect, although not insignificant,” Eurocontrol said.

The numbers are the result of measurements, assumptions and calculations Eurocontrol made by looking at its own data—including following activity by tail numbers—and talking to airline representatives. The analysis showed a one-month spike in flight cancelations from mid-March, when the MAX fleet was grounded after two fatal crashes. Then, airlines managed to find alternative aircraft to provide 85% of the flights. The remaining gap, amounting to 60 flights per day, explains the slower growth.

In February, MAXs accounted for 205 daily flights in Europe, operated by companies such as Norwegian Air Shuttle, Turkish Airlines, flydubai and Oman Air.

Eurocontrol also noted the impact of the additional “hot stand-by” capacity—extra idle time for specific aircraft—that some European carriers invested in. After air traffic delays in summer 2018, and with the prospect of another chaotic summer in 2019, airlines put in place this additional buffer, which Eurocontrol estimates took 0.4% off flight growth.

Looking ahead, the report notes that, as the number of undelivered MAXs increases, the demand for replacements also increases and it becomes more difficult to find lessors with suitable aircraft.

Meanwhile, analysts at Bernstein see some good news in the postponed deliveries. The situation will likely help both capacity and cash-flow in 2020, Daniel Roeska and Alex Irving wrote in a note. “In our view, 2020 will exhibit better-than-(we)-expected supply/demand balance amid low GDP,” they said.

Thierry Dubois, thierry.dubois@aviationweek.com