European airports lose 1.72 billion passengers over the course of 2020

Posted: 15 February 2021 | | No comments yet

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to drastically impact the aviation industry, final Full Year 2020 results from ACI Europe highlight the extent of the current damage to European airports.

European airports lose 1.72 billion passengers over the course of 2020

The European airport trade association, Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, has released its traffic report for the Full Year (FY) 2020, revealing the full extent of the devastation that was suffered by Europe’s airports as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the only air traffic report that includes all types of commercial flights to, from and within Europe (full service, low cost, regional, charter, full freight and others). 

The figures have outlined that Europe’s airports lost a total of 1.72 billion passengers in 2020 compared to 2019, representing a decrease of 70.4 per cent. 

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, commented: “With just 728 million passengers in 2020 compared to 2.4 billion passengers in the previous year, Europe’s airports were back to their traffic levels of 1995. No industry can, on its own, withstand such a shock. While some States have taken steps to financially support their airports, only €2.2 billion has so far been earmarked for that purpose in Europe. This is less than eight per cent of the revenues airports lost last year.”

“With further decreases in traffic over the past weeks and no recovery in sight, more needs to be done. Helping out airports is essential to rebuild air connectivity and effectively support local and regional communities and tourism. It is also critical to restore airports’ investment capabilities for the future. Without more financial support, investments in decarbonisation, digitalisation and SESAR are at risk,” he added. 

European Union (EU) airports (which experienced a decrease of 73 per cent, meaning that 1.32 billion passengers were lost) were significantly more impacted than non-EU (61.9 per cent decrease, 400 million passengers lost). This is mainly due to the size and relative resilience of domestic markets – primarily in Russia, but also Turkey – combined with less stringent lockdowns and travel restrictions compared to the EU market. 

The distinct performance between the EU and non-EU market became apparent in the second half of 2020. While both EU and non-EU airports saw passenger traffic coming to an almost stand still in Q2 (respectively, 97.3 per cent and 93.3 per cent), losses in Q4 stood at 83.8 per cent at EU airports compared to 63.9 per cent at non-EU airports.

Again, this mainly resulted from the relative resilience of domestic passenger traffic in the non-EU market (39.8 per cent) compared to the EU market (72.9 per cent), although non-EU airports also outperformed EU ones for international passenger traffic (respectively, 78.2 per cent and 86.6 per cent). 

Within the EU, limited variations in extreme passenger traffic losses also reflected the size of domestic markets and/or the extent of lockdowns and travel restrictions. 

As a result, in Q4, airports in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Slovenia and Slovakia were still seeing passenger traffic below 90 per cent – with German and UK airports following closely (87.9 per cent and 86.6 per cent, respectively). At the other end of the (narrow) spectrum, airports in Bulgaria (69 per cent), France (78.1 per cent), Greece (72.1 per cent) and Portugal (77.2 per cent) slightly outperformed the EU average. 

Outside the EU, airports in the larger Russian (44.2 per cent) and Turkish (60.7 per cent) markets proved the most resilient in Q4, with those in Iceland (96.2 per cent) and Georgia (94.8 per cent) being the most impacted. 

All segments of the airport industry were almost equally impacted in 2020 in terms of passenger traffic losses, from the top five European airports at 71.3 per cent to smaller regionals at 69.4 per cent. 

The five hubs listed as Majors in 2019 – London Heathrow Airport (LHR), Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and Istanbul Airport (IST) – lost 250 million passengers in 2020.

Frankfurt (73.4 per cent) posted the largest decrease, closely followed by Heathrow (72.7 per cent), Schiphol (70.9 per cent), Paris-CDG (70.8 per cent) and Istanbul (59.6 per cent). 

By Q4, only Istanbul remained in the top league. The Turkish hub had, by then, become the busiest European airport, followed by Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW), Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO), Moscow Domodedovo Airport (DME) and Moscow Vnukovo Airport (VKO).

Freight traffic at Europe’s airports fell by 11.8 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, with the loss almost equally distributed between EU airports (12.1 per cent) and non-EU airports (9.9 per cent). The recovery in freight traffic accelerated as of September 2020, with December 2020 seeing a marginally positive result (zero per cent). 

Amongst the top 10 European airports for freight, volume increases were registered only by Liège Airport (LGG) (23 per cent), Leipzig-Halle Airport (LEG) (12 per cent), Luxembourg Airport (LUX) (six per cent) and Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN) (five per cent). 

Aircraft movements across the European airport network decreased by 58.6 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.  

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