Europe’s airports post two year high in recovering passenger traffic

Airports Council International Europe has released its airport traffic report for March and full Q1 2022, showing passenger traffic at airports across the area stood at -34.3 per cent in March, up from –51.1 per cent in January.

European airport trade body, Airports Council International Europe (ACI- Europe), has released its airport traffic report for March 2022 and full Q1 2022.

Note: Unless otherwise specified, all data reported below are against pre-pandemic (2019) corresponding reporting periods.

The report confirms the recovery in passenger traffic, with March seeing the European airport network posting its best monthly performance so far since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, at -34.1 per cent (Q1 stands at -39.6 per cent).

EU+ market surges forward

This March (2022) recovery was the result of 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 per cent in March, up from –51.1 per cent in January (Q1 as a whole stood at -42.1 per cent).

The best performing markets in the EU+ area in March were Portugal (-16.3 per cent), Romania (-21.8 per cent) and Spain (-21.9 per cent). Worst performing were Slovenia (-61.9 per cent), Slovakia (-58 per cent) and Germany (-51.7 per cent). Airports in the UK (-38.2 per cent) finally came closer to the EU+ area average while those in France (-29.5 per cent) outperformed it.

Rest of Europe figure impacted by war

In the rest of Europe, the Russian war against Ukraine resulted in passenger traffic significantly deteriorating in March to -32.9 per cent, down from -23.8 per cent in January (Q1 at -26.5 per cent).

The slump in March came from the loss of all passenger traffic at Ukrainian airports and of most passenger traffic at Moldavian airports (-94.5 per cent), as well as reduced passenger traffic at Russian airports. The latter resulted primarily from the EU and UK air traffic bans, but also from the closure by the Russian government 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 per cent in March at those Russian airports remaining in operation.

Elsewhere in the non-EU+ area, while passenger traffic also deteriorated at Georgian airports (-38 per cent), it kept improving in all other markets including in Serbia (-21 per cent) and Turkey (-24.5 per cent). Airports in Armenia (+0.4 per cent) achieved a full recovery, while those in Albania (+38.9 per cent) and Kosovo (+15.1 per cent) were way above their pre-pandemic volumes.  

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe commented: “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 what is 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.”

Majors now improving faster

The majors (Top Five European airports) saw passenger traffic improving significantly at -34.5 per cent in March, up from -48.5 per cent in January.

Istanbul (-20 per cent) remained the busiest European airport, but London Heathrow (LHR) (-35.7 per cent) jumped to the second position up from the fourth over the preceding month – followed by Paris-CDG (-35.2 per cent), Amsterdam-Schiphol (AMS) (-33.8 per cent) and Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez Airport (MAD) (-27.5 per cent).

Smaller and regional airports still ahead

At smaller and regional airports, passenger traffic stood at -24.9 per cent in March, up from -38 per cent January, with an average of -32.1 per cent for Q1.

Low Cost airlines’ strongholds such as Milan-Bergamo (-5.7 per cent), Charleroi (-5.2 per cent) and Kaunas (-7.2 per cent) came close to achieving a full recovery in March.

Insular airports serving popular tourism destinations also came at or close to full recovery in March: Paphos (+1.4 per cent), Palermo (+0.6 per cent), Ibiza (-2.1 per cent), Chania (-2.5 per cent), Funchal (-4 per cent), Catania (-7.5 per cent), Ajaccio (-9.1 per cent) and Lanzarote (-9.2 per cent).

Freight and movements

Freight traffic across the European airport network stood at +4.9 per cent in March and at +5.1 per cent for Q1. Freight traffic kept progressing in the EU+ bloc (+5.7 per cent) but deteriorated in the rest of Europe (-2.6 per cent) in March – a direct result of the war in Ukraine.

Aircraft movements across the European airport network were at -27.7 per cent in March, up from -42.1 per cent in January. They stood at -31.5 per cent for Q1.

During March, airports welcoming more than 25 million passengers per year (Group 1), airports welcoming between 10 and 25 million passengers (Group 2), airports welcoming between five and 10 million passengers (Group 3) and airports welcoming less than five million passengers per year (Group 4) reported an average decline of -37.4 per cent, -34.0 per cent, -22.9 per cent and -24.9 per cent respectively.

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