European airport trade body ACI EUROPE reported a recovery in passenger traffic, with March seeing airports posting their best monthly performance since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
It said the recovery resulted from most States in the EU+ area finally easing restrictions for both intra-European and external travel on the back of strong pent-up demand.
Accordingly, passenger traffic at airports across the area stood at -34.3% in March, up from –51.1% in January (Q1 stood at -42.1%).
The best-performing markets in the EU+ area in March were Portugal (-16.3%), Romania (-21.8%) and Spain (-21.9%).
Worst performing were Slovenia (-61.9%), Slovakia (-58%) and Germany (-51.7%).
Airports in the UK (-38.2%) finally came closer to the EU+ area average, while those in France (-29.5%) outperformed it.
In the rest of Europe, the Russian war against Ukraine resulted in passenger traffic significantly deteriorating in March to -32.9%, down from -23.8% in January (Q1 at -26.5%).
The slump in March came from the loss of all passenger traffic at Ukrainian airports, most passenger traffic at Moldavian airports (-94.5%) and reduced passenger traffic at Russian airports.
The latter resulted primarily from the EU and UK air traffic bans and from the Russian government’s closure of more than 10 commercial airports in the Southern part of that country.
While passenger traffic at Russian airports had recovered their pre-pandemic volumes at the start of the year, it went down by an estimated average of -24% in March at those Russian airports remaining in operation.
Elsewhere in the non-EU+ area, while passenger traffic also deteriorated at Georgian airports (-38%), it kept improving in all other markets, including in Serbia (-21%) and Turkey (-24.5%).
Airports in Armenia (+0.4%) achieved a full recovery, while those in Albania (+38.9%) and Kosovo (+15.1%) were way above their pre-pandemic volumes.
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, said: “The impact of the war staged by Russia in Ukraine on passenger traffic has been contained to these countries and a few others in their immediate vicinity.
“For airports in the rest of Europe, the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions not just on the continent but also increasingly for intercontinental travel bodes very well for the Summer season.
“The immediate challenge is to manage the sudden surge in traffic, given that the pandemic left airports and ground handlers with hugely depleted resources.
This now requires re-staffing in a very tight labour market across Europe.
“What’s more, the time required by national security clearance procedures for airport staff combined with training requirements simply make it impossible to adjust overnight.
“All this, combined with traffic being much more concentrated over peak periods, is putting significant strain on the entire aviation system as we strive to recover.”
The top 5 European airports saw passenger traffic improving significantly at -34.5% in March, up from -48.5% in January.
Istanbul (-20%) remained the busiest European airport, but London-Heathrow (-35.7%) jumped to the second position up from 4th over the preceding month – followed by Paris-CDG (-35.2%), Amsterdam-Schiphol (-33.8%) and Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez (-27.5%).
Passenger traffic at smaller & regional airports stood at -24.9% in March, up from -38% in January, with an average of -32.1% for Q1.
Low-cost airlines’ strongholds such as Milan-Bergamo (-5.7%), Charleroi (-5.2%) and Kaunas (-7.2%) came close to achieving full recovery in March.
Insular airports serving popular tourism destinations also came at or close to full recovery in March: Paphos (+1.4%), Palermo (+0.6%), Ibiza (-2.1%), Chania (-2.5%), Funchal (-4%), Catania (-7.5%), Ajaccio (-9.1%) and Lanzarote (-9.2%).
Freight traffic across the European airport network stood at +4.9% in March and +5.1% for Q1.
However, freight traffic kept progressing in the EU+ bloc (+5.7%) but deteriorated in the rest of Europe (-2.6%) in March – a direct result of the war in Ukraine.
Aircraft movements across the European airport network were at -27.7% in March, up from -42.1% in January. They stood at -31.5% for Q1.