The strong travel demand over the summer has increased confidence in the recovery timeline of passenger traffic at Europe’s airports. While previous forecasts predicted a full recovery to 2019 levels only in 2025, the latest air traffic report and the updated Airport Traffic Forecast 2023‑2027 from Airports Council International (ACI) Europe foresee a full recovery already for next year.
Taking stock of the strong performance of passenger traffic over the summer and the continued resilience of demand, despite lasting inflationary pressures, persistently higher air fares and increased geopolitical tensions, ACI Europe now predicts that by the end of 2023, passenger traffic will be reaching 95.5% of pre-pandemic volumes, whereas the previous forecast, from December 2022, only predicted a 91% recovery.
As a full recovery is expected for 2024, passenger traffic at Europe’s airports is set to stand at +1.4% over 2019 levels next year, rather than at -2% as per the previous forecast. Looking forward, by 2027, traffic is expected to have increased by 9.2% compared to pre-pandemic levels, only marginally higher than the 9% in the previous forecast.
However, ACI Europe has cautioned that behind these network-wide figures, airports across Europe will continue to report significant variations in their passenger traffic performance – at least in the medium-term. ” However, ACI EUROPE has cautioned that behind these headline network-wide figures, airports across Europe will continue to report significant variations in their passenger traffic performance – at least in the medium-term”, said ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec.
In the past, when faced with systemic shocks such as 9/11 or the global financial crisis, most airports tended to recover at a similar pace. Not this time.Olivier Jankovec, Director General ACI Europe
As of last August, the delta in performance against pre-pandemic passenger levels across national markets ranged from -34% to more than +100%, something Jankovec said was unprecedented. “This is down to the war in Ukraine and resulting restrictions on air traffic impacting certain markets, along with structural changes in the aviation market post-Covid-19”, Jankovec explained.
Among the structural changes contributing to the uneven recovery is the prominence of leisure travel and Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) demand, as well as the strength of international intra-European and transatlantic demand. Both factors are driving the evolution of airlines’ route networks, much to the benefit of airports serving popular tourism destinations or communities with extensive diasporas.
Moreover, the remarkable yet selective expansion of ultra-low-cost carriers and relative retrenchment of full-service carriers, with the notable exception of Turkish Airlines, tends to favour secondary and regional airports rather than larger hubs.
While demand remains strong into the autumn, ACI Europe also cautioned about downside traffic risks. These risks include economic slowdown in Europe, ongoing inflation and higher oil prices, constraints on airline capacity growth, due to aircraft and spare parts supply issues, and increased geopolitical risks.
At the same time, while a constant increased demand for travelling has been observed since Covid-19 restrictions started disappearing, experts have warned that the trend of revenge travelling is coming to an end, with a “slower-than usual shoulder season” for tourism expected this autumn.