European Passenger Traffic Recovery Gathers Pace – ACI Europe

The progressive reopening of long-haul markets will see Europe’s passenger traffic rebound in 2022, but the pace of recovery is happening at two speeds and air connectivity remains “markedly degraded” compared with 2019 levels.

The reopening of the transatlantic market to European travelers, as well as a progressive easing of travel restrictions to Asia, will see passenger traffic across Europe’s airports surge in 2022, according to the findings of a report released by ACI Europe on the eve of its Annual Congress and General Assembly in Geneva.

The trade body’s latest traffic forecast revealed that passenger volumes will be around 40% of pre-pandemic levels in 2021 but accelerate to 68% next year. However, a full recovery will be achieved only in 2025.

The report also found that the pace of the aviation market’s recovery across Europe is happening at two speeds, with airports in the European Union (EU) and the UK underperforming compared with their counterparts in the rest of the continent.

It said that passenger volumes are down by 69% so far this year at airports in the EU, UK and Switzerland against 2019 levels—and are essentially flat compared with 2020.

Although the third quarter of 2021 (Q3) saw a “significant” improvement—with traffic at 50% of precrisis levels—passenger volumes disappointed at airports in the UK (down 71%), Ireland (-68%) and Finland (-78%) because of “a much slower easing of travel restrictions” by their governments.

However, airports in the rest of Europe have achieved a significant recovery at -34% so far this year against 2019, with passenger volumes up by 70% compared with 2020. Q3 levels were just 21% down on 2019 levels, driven by continued improvement in Russia and Turkey.

Overall, ACI Europe said the continent’s airports have lost 1.26 billion passengers so far this year—a decrease of 62% compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“Fully restoring unconstrained global travel remains a long way off and looks set to be an uneven and volatile process—conditioned by further progress on vaccination and the evolution of the epidemiological situation,” ACI Europe director-general Olivier Jankovec said.

He added the level of pent-up demand is “staggering” but downsized airlines, rising fuel costs and inflationary pressures, and airport slot waivers will slow the pace of recovery.

Alongside the traffic data, a separate report found that direct connectivity out of Europe’s airports is now 36% lower than pre-pandemic levels. However, hub connectivity is still reduced by 67% due to most intercontinental markets remaining subject to tight travel restrictions.

As with passenger traffic, airports in the EU, UK and Switzerland have underperformed the European average, with direct connectivity down by 39% and hub connectivity down by 71%. Airports in the rest of Europe have achieved reductions of 20% and 51%, respectively.

Smaller and regional airports have so far recovered their direct connectivity faster than others, ACI Europe said, reflecting that the recovery has so far been predominantly driven by intra-European and domestic leisure traffic, as well as LCCs.

As a result, the share of direct connectivity provided by LCCs at Europe’s airports has increased from 34% in 2019 to 39% this year. The direct connectivity offered by LCCs is only 10% lower than 2019 levels at smaller and regional airports, but 32% lower at the larger airports.

Meanwhile, ACI Europe found that the direct connectivity offered by full-service carriers is down 32% from precrisis levels at smaller and regional airports and down 42% at larger airports.

Looking at the top 20 airports in Europe in terms of direct connectivity, Amsterdam (AMS) retained top spot having recovered two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels. Istanbul (IST) was second, followed by Frankfurt (FRA), Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO).

However, Rome Fiumicino (FCO) slipped from 10th in 2019 to 19th this year, London Heathrow (LHR) fell from fourth to seventh over the same time period, and Munich (MUC) dropped from sixth to 10th.

The direct connectivity rankings are measured not just in terms of destinations, but also factoring in the frequency of flights to the same destination.

“This year’s report shows that as we are learning to live with the virus and economies have re-opened, air connectivity is taking time to come back,” Jankovec said.

“Its recovery is far from uniform, with significant differences between the lead indexes as well as between geographical markets and segments within the airport industry. This largely reflects the permanence of travel restrictions and bans on external markets and still not fully aligned travel regimes within Europe.”

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