European airlines have expressed optimism about the future of their industry for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, with the largest operator saying a "very strong recovery" is in the air.
Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, told the BBC that short-haul European flights are in demand once again, now that many nations have eased pandemic-related travel restrictions.
He said the Dublin-based carrier has responded by launching 14 new routes from London airports-including to resorts in Spain, Italy, Finland, and Sweden-with an expectation that demand will return fully to pre-pandemic levels.
He told the broadcaster that the airline, which is Europe's largest by passenger numbers, will continue to offer cheap-ticket deals while demand builds back up to pre-pandemic levels.
"Through the winter, pricing will continue to build, but it will still be below pre-COVID," he said. "We don't expect pricing to go back to pre-pandemic levels until the summer of 2022."
He said the anticipated bounce-back means the airline is looking at ordering 55 new planes from Boeing, a leading plane-maker in the US.
EasyJet has also said it plans to expand its schedule in the coming weeks, as has British Airways.
Doug Parker, the chief executive of American Airlines, told the BBC the industry is "in the midst of an unprecedented recovery".
The UK government supported the industry during its virtual mothballing at the height of the pandemic with 7 billion pounds ($9.7 billion) of grants directed at furloughed workers. Some analysts say the end of that government support in the coming weeks could throw a curveball that could lead to layoffs.
But FlightGlobal, the online news and information website for the aviation industry, said the immediate news is good, with the number of flights operated in European airspace exceeding Eurocontrol's best-case scenario in August for the second month running. Eurocontrol is the continent's air traffic management agency.
It said passenger numbers are now at 71 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
Eamonn Brennan, Eurocontrol's director-general, told FlightGlobal it was "a good outcome".
CityAM, a free London-based business publication, said the rebound means Europe has seen its sharpest-ever rise in international visitor numbers during the past six months.
Travel agent Butter told the paper Europe welcomed just 5 million tourists in February but more than 12 million in May.
Timothy Davis, the agency's CEO, told CityAM: "The outlook for the global travel and tourism industry has looked very bleak for quite some time and... airlines and travel agencies have been hit so hard that many have been unable to survive."
He said the sector has indeed been bouncing back strongly in recent weeks, but admitted "there is still quite some way to go before normality returns".