Irreversible damage to air connectivity now a serious concern
The European network of over 500 airports welcomed 2.8 million passengers during April 2020; the volume handled by Dublin Airport alone in April 2019.
ACI EUROPE has revealed a reduction of 98.6 per cent in passenger traffic across Europe’s airports during the month of April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. This is a loss of 202 million passengers.
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, commented: “Europe’s airports are on their knees. They have lost more than 315 million passengers since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak and they will exceed half a billion passengers lost before the end of May. All their revenue sources have essentially dried up, most of their staff furloughed and investments stopped – yet cash is still flowing out in running costs as most have remained at least partially open.”
Jankovec warned: “This cannot last much longer before large scale and irreversible damage is inflicted not just on staff, local sub-contractors and business partners – but also on air connectivity, tourism and regional economies. If some air traffic and revenue generation capabilities are not restored in time for the peak summer months, we will see airports across Europe going bust, with a far-reaching domino effect upon local communities.”
Smaller regional airports that were already facing structural financial viability challenges before COVID-19 are the most exposed. The summer holiday period accounts for up to 70 per cent of their revenues, however, as Jankovec pointed out: “Beyond smaller regional airports, business continuity is a systemic issue for the airport industry – with larger airports across Europe also fighting for survival.”
ACI EUROPE made clear that protecting air connectivity, tourism, jobs and regional development requires supporting airports.
As part of its ‘OFF THE GROUND’ project, ACI EUROPE has called for the European Commission to revisit state aid rules beyond the temporary framework already in place to respond to COVID-19.
With the immediate priority being restarting operations, ACI EUROPE also reiterated its call for European states to fully coordinate and align the conditions under which current restrictions to air travel can be lifted. This should include lifting the quarantine requirements for incoming travellers.
Jankovec commented: “There can be no compromise when it comes to the health and safety of passengers and staff. COVID-19 confronts us with an unprecedented challenge as a vaccine or an effective treatment are still distant prospects. Just as everyone is doing in our daily lives, we must adapt on an on-going basis to operate our airports and protect livelihoods in ways that reduce transmission risks as much as possible. This means looking at the most effective combination of measures, which must be fully coherent across all transport modes and tourism activities.”
Jankovec concluded: “As long as physical distancing will be part of deconfinement strategies for all transport modes, airports should be required to ensure it in ways that are operationally feasible and under conditions that are effective at reducing transmission risks. Airports need their health authorities to work cooperatively with them to adapt physical distancing to their specific layout and operations.”