Europe airport passenger traffic in downward spiral

6 mins read

European airport trade body, ACI EUROPE, said its report for Q2 & H1 2021 reveals the continued devastating impact of COVID-19, with passenger traffic decreasing by -76.9% across the network compared to pre-pandemic 2019.

Compared to 2020, Europe’s airports saw passenger traffic decreasing by –36.2% (H1 2020 vs.

H1 2019 stood at -64.2%).

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, said: “For Europe’s airports, the first 6 months of 2021 were actually worse than last year, as passenger volumes further decreased by more than a third.

“This is the direct result of the travel restrictions reinstated by European States at the

beginning of the year and which remained in place throughout Spring as the third wave of the pandemic hit the continent.


Airports in the EU+ market (EU/EEA/Switzerland/UK) significantly underperformed the H1 European average, with passenger traffic down by -84.1% compared to H1 2019 – and further decreasing by -54.6% compared to H1 2020.

Airports in Ireland (-93.5%), the UK (-92.9%), Finland (-92.1%) and Hungary (-91.9%) recorded the worst performances due to especially harsh and often disproportionate travel restrictions, said ACI EUROPE.

At the other end of the spectrum, airports in Romania (-71.7%), Bulgaria (-73.6%), Greece (-76.9%) and Spain (-78.8%) posted the “lowest” decreases in passenger traffic.

Conversely, passenger traffic at airports in the rest of Europe (non-EU+) fared much better, decreasing by -42.9% compared to H1 2019 and increasing by +36% compared to H1 2020.

This reflected less severe and shorter travel restrictions, larger and more resilient domestic markets.

While domestic passenger traffic fell by -68.6% at EU+ airports compared to H1 2019, it decreased by only -17.3% in the rest of Europe – and was actually above pre-pandemic levels by June (+8.6%).

During H1, the best overall passenger traffic results came from airports in Russia (-27.2%), Kosovo (-32%), Uzbekistan (-41.8%), Ukraine (-47.6%) and Turkey (-59.7%).


The disparity between the EU+ market and the rest of Europe resulted in the 5 busiest European airports in the first half of the year all coming from Russia and Turkey – with Istanbul (-62.5%) in the top position, followed by Moscow-Sheremetyevo (-51.4%), Moscow-Domodedovo (-14%), Istanbul Sabiha Gokçen (-47.1%) and Moscow-Vnukovo (-25.9%).


Passenger traffic at Europe’s Majors significantly underperformed in H1 2021 than pre-pandemic (H1 2019) at -80.2% – with London Heathrow (-90.1%) going from the busiest European airport in H1 2019 to 14th in the first half of this year.

Meanwhile, Paris-CDG (-81.8%) ranked 7th (2nd in H1 2019), Frankfurt (-80.7%) ranked 9th (3rd in

H1 2019) and Amsterdam-Schiphol (83.8%) ranked 10th (4th in H1 2019).

Along with the Majors, other EU+ large airports and hubs also underperformed the European average in H1 due to bans and other harsh restrictions on non-essential travel outside Europe. This was, in particular, the case of Dublin (-93.1%, ranking 48th down from 15th in H1 2019), Copenhagen (-90.4%, 38th down from 19th), Munich (-90.3%, 23rd position from 8th) and Rome Fiumicino (-86.2%, 18th position down from 10th).

Regional airports (less than 10 million passengers/annum without capital airports) performed comparatively better at -75% – due to their exclusive reliance on intra-European traffic.

Those with even larger exposures to domestic traffic tended to post better results, especially when located on islands or remote areas with no or limited alternative transport modes.


July’s preliminary data reveals a decrease in passenger traffic of -51% across the European airport network compared to the same month pre-pandemic (2019), but with total passenger volumes more than doubling compared to July 2020 – from 57.4 million to 127.4 million.

Europe remains a two-speed aviation market, with the performance gap between airports in the EU+ area (-57%) and those in the rest of Europe (-27%) still significant.

The improvement in passenger traffic started gaining some real momentum only over July.

This was clearly facilitated by the EU Digital Covid Certificates and the UK and Ireland better aligning their travel regime with the rest of Europe and finally accepting that vaccinated travellers do not need to quarantine.

On 1 August, the height of the Summer season, passenger traffic stood at -38% compared to the same

day in 2019 – with airports in the EU+ area at -43% and those in the rest of the continent at -18%.

Jankovec said: “The situation is gradually improving for airports but make no mistake – 2021 is not going to be the year of our recovery – far from it.

“Europe’s airports have already lost over 1 billion passengers this year – which is more than was lost last year to date.

“The outlook beyond the peak Summer months remains uncertain and is dependent on further progress with vaccination both in Europe and globally.

“Our eyes are especially on the US market, which remains closed to European travellers, increasing the level of frustration on both sides of the Atlantic with each day.”