Passenger traffic across the European airport network increased by 69% in January compared to the same month last year, when Omicron-related travel restrictions had halted the recovery, according to European airport trade body ACI Europe’s latest air traffic report. When compared to January 2019 levels, passenger traffic in January stood at just -11%, the best monthly performance and thus closest to a full recovery since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
2023 is off to a pretty good start thanks to the continued resilience of passenger demand in the face of higher air fares and wider inflationary pressures across the economy.Olivier Jankovec, Director General ACI Europe
The growth was predominantly driven by international passenger traffic (+85%) with domestic passenger traffic (+35%) expanding at a much slower pace. “42% of Europe’s airports have now recovered their pre-pandemic traffic volumes and while there are significant performance variations across markets, we expect more to hit the same milestone in the coming months. Continued capacity expansion by Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers and the recent lifting of pre-departure testing requirements for travellers from China should keep driving the recovery forward for airports”, said ACI Europe’s Director General Olivier Jankovec.
1. EU+ market in the lead
EU+ area airports (EU, EEA, UK and Switzerland) saw passenger traffic growing by +82% in January compared to the same month last year. The highest increases came from airports in the UK (+128%), Ireland (+115%) and Cyprus (+111%).
11 national markets achieved or exceeded a full recovery in January. compared to just 1 in December 2022. The best performances came from airports in Portugal (+12.8%), Cyprus (+11.2%) and Luxembourg (+9%), followed by those in Croatia (+5.4%), Malta (+3.6%) and Romania (+3.2%).
Conversely, airports in Slovakia (-45.2%), Slovenia (-44.1%) the Czech Republic (-33.3%) and Germany (-31.7%) remained the farthest from achieving a full recovery. This reflects a mix of factors, including the impact of the war in Ukraine and the lack of penetration or loss of Low-Cost traffic.
Among the largest EU+ markets and aside from the underperformance of airports in Germany, airports in Spain (+2.2%) posted the best results, followed by those in Italy (-4.7%) France (-11%) and the UK (-14.3%).
2. Rest of Europe
At airports in the rest of Europe (Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan), passenger traffic grew by +27% in January compared to the same month last year and was only 8% behind January 2019 levels.
For now, our immediate focus is on getting ready for the peak summer season.Olivier Jankovec, Director General ACI Europe
The impact of the war kept weighing on performance, with the loss of all commercial air traffic for Ukrainian airports and passenger volumes decreasing by 9.4% at Russian airports. Meanwhile airports in Armenia (+70%) and Georgia (+49.2%) and to a lesser extent Turkey (+47.9%) benefited from war-related traffic shifts.
Airports in Albania (+86.2%), Armenia (+80.9%), Kosovo (+39.6%) and Serbia (+28.3%) far exceeded their pre-pandemic volumes, while those in the major market of Turkey (-2.6%) came very close to a full recovery. Airports in Russia (+6.6%) still managed to remain above their pre-pandemic volumes as passenger traffic kept shifting to domestic and non-EU+ markets.
3. Recovery patterns shaping airport performance
Passenger traffic at the top 5 European airports (the Majors) grew by 73.5% in January compared to the same month last year. It remained 10.6% below pre-pandemic levels, an improvement compared to December 2022, at -12.1%, with the positive impact of the re-opening of the Chinese market still to materialise.
By welcoming 5.64 million passengers, Istanbul went back to being the busiest European airport in January, a position taken by London-Heathrow in the final months of 2022. This represented an increase of 62.6% over the same month last year, allowing the Turkish hub to exceed its pre-pandemic volumes by 8.1%.
London-Heathrow came second with 5.49 million passengers, followed by Paris-CDG with 4.72 million passengers. Volumes increased by 111.2% and 73.2% respectively for the British and French hubs compared to the same month last year and remained -7.4% and -12.1% below January 2019 levels.
Madrid came in the fourth position with 4.43 million passengers. The performance of the Spanish hub reflects the significant penetration of Low-Cost Carriers and its lower exposure to Asia. Along with Istanbul, it was the only Major exceeding pre-pandemic volumes (+1%). Madrid was followed by Amsterdam-Schiphol with 3.9 million passengers (+56.6% compared to the same month last year / -22.2% compared to January 2019).
The passenger traffic performance of other large airports in January reflected a recovery still largely driven by intra-European and transatlantic routes, dominated by leisure demand and characterised by significant but selective capacity expansion from Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers. Accordingly, Lisbon (+13.3%), Athens (+3.9%), Dublin (+2%), Istanbul-Sabiha Gokcen (+1.3%) all exceeded their pre-pandemic volumes. Meanwhile, Berlin (-45.9%), Munich (-28%), London-Gatwick (-26.9%) and Frankfurt (-21.3%) remained well below.
The same recovery patterns and market dynamics brought regional and smaller airports close to a full passenger traffic recovery (-4.9% for airports with less than 10 million passengers per annum when compared to January 2019). There were however significant variations in performance amongst regional airports, with those serving popular tourist destinations and/or relying on Low-Cost Carriers seeing passenger volumes exceeding January 2019 levels, including: Varna (+60.1%), Batumi (+56%), Memmingen (+40.5%), Paphos (+39.2%), Funchal (+38.5%), Alghero (+31.5%), Bergamo (+22.3%), Krakow (+19.8%), Catania (+14.6%), Charleroi (+13.6%) and Eindhoven (+12.9%).