Europe’s air passenger traffic at ‘rock bottom’

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The latest data released by European airport body ACI EUROPE shows a deepening crisis in the travel sector, with air traffic in a continuing downward spiral shedding millions of passengers.

Passenger traffic in Q1 slumped by -81.7% across the European airport network, compared to the same period pre-pandemic (Q1 2019).

This marked a further decrease from the previous quarter (Q4 2020 at -79.2%), resulting in the loss of 395.5 million passengers.

A closer look at the data reveals that Europe has become a two-speed aviation market – with airports in the EU/EEA/Switzerland still sinking into the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other European airports led by those in Russia and Turkey are faring much better.

EU/EEA/Swiss and UK airports saw passenger traffic decreasing from -85% in January to -89% in March – with their Q1 performance standing at -88%.

This reflected their countries bracing with the third wave of COVID-19 infections, with severe travel restrictions and bans and widespread domestic lockdowns.

UK airports were especially affected, along with those in countries relying exclusively on international traffic – many of them left with less than 5% of their pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels.

Conversely, passenger traffic at airports in Turkey, Russia and other markets improved markedly from -59% in January to -49% in March, with Q1 closing at -54.8%.

This is mainly due to airports in Russia and, to a lesser extent Turkey and Ukraine, reflecting larger domestic markets combined with less severe lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Airport rankings

Accordingly, the top 5 European airports in Q1 all came from Russia and Turkey – with Istanbul Airport (-64%) the busiest European airport, followed by Moscow-Domodedovo (-18%), Moscow Sheremetyevo (-60%), Istanbul-Sabiha Gokcen (-48%) and Moscow-Vnukovo (-26%).

While Paris-CDG (-82%), Madrid (-81%), Frankfurt (-83%) and Amsterdam-Schiphol (-87%) still made it in the top 10 league, London-Heathrow (-91%) did not.

Remarkably, Sochi airport (+47%) welcomed more passengers than London-Heathrow as Russians flocked to the Black Sea resort city – thus becoming the only airport in Europe to post an increase in passenger traffic Q1.

Preliminary data for April shows no significant improvement, despite the timing of the Easter holidays at the beginning of the month.

In the first 10 days of April, passenger traffic at Europe’s airports was down by -80%, with airports in the EU/EEA/Switzerland and the UK at -87% and others at -48.7%.

The state of airport passenger traffic also reflects the continued collapse of air connectivity, with nearly 2000 additional air routes lost since the start of the year – from 6.663 in January to 8.539 in April.

ACI EUROPE said passenger traffic at Europe’s airports is now set to decrease by -64% in 2021, down from a -52% forecast in January

A full recovery to the passenger volumes of 2019 has been reforecast from 2024 to 2025

European airports still stand to lose another €29 billion in revenue this year, said ACI Wednesday.

It said a slow traffic recovery combined with much-increased airport competitive pressures would heavily constrain revenues – leaving increasing restart costs unrecovered for most airports.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, said: “If anything, these figures show not only that the crisis has not receded, but that things have actually got worse for airports since the beginning of the year.

“Beyond rock bottom traffic and collapsed connectivity, there is no escaping the fact that the financial resilience of Europe’s airports is faltering by the day.

“We desperately need to get the recovery underway during the Summer and are anxious to see the vaccination roll-out finally improving the epidemiological situation.”