European airport trade body ACI Europe has released its airport traffic report for the third quarter (Q3) and September 2022, which shows passenger volumes recovered to 88% of pre-pandemic levels this summer.
Passenger traffic across the European airport network increased by +61% in Q3 compared to the same period last year. International passenger traffic (+84%) drove the surge as largely unrestricted cross border travel led to a boom in leisure and VFR travel over the peak summer months. Domestic passenger traffic (+14%) expanded at a lower but still dynamic pace. When compared to pre-pandemic (2019) levels, passenger traffic in Q3 stood at -12%, a significant improvement over Q2 (-17%) and Q1 (-39%).
1. European market surging in Q3, with national variations
The EU, EEA, Switzerland and UK continued to drive the recovery, with passenger traffic at airports in the bloc increasing by +74% in Q3 compared to the same period last year. The best performances came from airports in the UK (+202%), Finland (+194%) and Ireland (+188%), largely reflecting the fact that Governments in these countries had been slower to ease travel restrictions last year.
When compared to pre-pandemic levels, European airports were at -13%, with significant variations in recovery performance. Airports in Greece (+4.8%), Luxembourg (+3.3%) and Iceland (+1%) exceeded their pre-pandemic passenger volumes, while airports in prominent tourism markets including Portugal (-1.8%), Spain (-7.8%), Croatia (-9.3%) and Italy (-11.4%) generally outperformed the average, along with those in Romania (-4.8%), Lithuania (-7.6%), Ireland (-10%) and Poland (-11.2%), where significant Ultra-Low Cost Carrier capacity expansion was often a major contributor.
Airports in the largest European aviation markets recovered at a slower pace, with France (-14.1%) posting the best results followed by the UK (-18.1%) and Germany (-25.9%). The exposure of these markets to intercontinental traffic (especially to Asia) as well as airport capacity restrictions at selected hubs in the UK and Germany acted as recovery‑limiting factors. Meanwhile, airports in Finland (-35.4%), Czech Republic (-30.9%), Latvia (-28.7%) and Bulgaria (-27.7%) significantly lagged behind, in large part due to the impact of the war in Ukraine and related sanctions against Russia and Belarus.
2. Recovery patterns shaping airport performance
Passenger traffic at the Majors (top 5 European airports) grew by +79.4% in Q3 compared to the same period last year, but remained -16.9% below pre-pandemic (Q3 2019) levels, mainly due to continued travel restrictions in parts of Asia.
Istanbul was the busiest European airport and the only major European hub whose passenger volumes exceeded pre-pandemic (Q3 2019) levels at +3%. Its passenger traffic increased by nearly +56.1% when compared to Q3 2021.
London-Heathrow came second followed by Paris-CDG. Volumes increased by +187.1% and +83% respectively for the British and French hubs compared to Q3 last year – standing at -18.4% and -19.9% respectively below pre-pandemic (Q3 2019) levels.
Capacity restrictions limited passenger traffic growth at Amsterdam-Schiphol (+54.1%) and Frankfurt (+62.3%) compared to Q3 last year. The Dutch and German hubs came in 4th and 5th position, with volumes for both remaining below -20% when compared to pre-pandemic (Q3 2019) levels.
3. Traffic momentum holding up in September
In September passenger traffic across the European airport network stood at -12% when compared to pre-pandemic (September 2019) levels. Airports kept improving and posted their best monthly recovery performance at -12% (vs. -14% in August).