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Europe’s Airports Recover: ACI EUROPE Reports on H1

Passenger traffic has been on a steady rebound in the first half of 2023

European airport trade body, ACI EUROPE, has unveiled its latest air traffic report. This document provides detailed insights on air traffic for the month of June, the second quarter (Q2), and the first half (H1) of 2023.

International Demand Drives Near-Full Recovery of Passenger Volumes in Europe

The European airport network experienced a surge in passenger traffic, with an increase of 28.3% in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in the previous year. A significant point to note is the disparity in growth rates between international traffic, which grew at a rate of 32.2%, and domestic traffic, which saw a growth of 16.6%. The growth rate moderated somewhat in the second quarter, at 16.3%, compared to the first quarter’s impressive 49%, largely due to the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions within Europe from April of the previous year.

When evaluated against pre-pandemic levels (2019), passenger volumes in the first half of the year were down by 7.7%. However, there was a consistent improvement over the course of the period, from an 11% decrease in January to a more modest 5.9% decrease in June.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, said of the results: “Passenger traffic has rebounded over the past 6 months, getting ever closer to a full recovery. However, 2023 is not 2019. There are significant variations in performance across national markets, and volumes still remain below their pre-pandemic levels for more than half (52%) of Europe’s airports. Apart from the lasting impact of the war in Ukraine on some markets, this is largely due to recovery patterns becoming structural. These include the impressive yet selective expansion of Ultra-Low Cost Carriers and relative retrenchment of Full Service Carriers, along with the prominence of leisure and VFR1 demand as well as some domestic traffic shifting to other transport modes.”

“So far, demand has remained extremely resilient in the face of lasting inflationary pressures and record increases in airfares since the beginning of the year. But, looking ahead and past the peak Summer months, we do see significant downside risks and much uncertainty. These include the prospect of deteriorating macroeconomics for the Eurozone and the UK, as well as initial signals that discretionary spending might start decreasing and that pandemic‑savings buffers are exhausted.”

ACI EUROPE Reports: Performance Gaps Amongst National Markets

Passenger traffic at airports in both the EU+ market2 and the rest of Europe3 saw a comparable surge in the first half of the year, growing by 28.7% and 26.4%, respectively, compared to the same period last year. However, when juxtaposed with figures from the pre-pandemic era (H1 2019), airports in the rest of Europe (-2.1%) came closest to a full recovery, with the EU+ market (-8.7%) lagging behind.

  • In the EU+ market, June witnessed remarkable passenger traffic performances, with airports in Greece topping the list with a surge of +14.2%. They were closely followed by Iceland (+9.3%), Luxembourg (+8.7%), Portugal (+8.1%), and Poland (+6.3%). However, a contrasting picture was painted by airports in Finland (-32.2%), Slovenia (-31.9%), Germany (-21.7%), Bulgaria (-20.5%), and Sweden (-18.8%), languishing well beneath their pre-COVID-19 activity levels.

    When it comes to the larger markets, Italy’s airports took the lead, registering a positive increment of +1.9%. Spain followed this, albeit with a slight contraction of -2.8%, trailed by the UK (-6%) and France (-8.3%). Presenting a stark contrast, Germany’s airports emerged as clear outliers in this trend. 

  • Looking at the rest of Europe, the best passenger traffic performance in June came from airports in Albania (+114.6%), buoyed by Ultra-Low Cost Carrier expansion — followed by those in Uzbekistan (+91.7%), Armenia (+87.6%), Kazakhstan (+43.6%) which benefited from Russian traffic shifting away from the EU+ market.

    Meanwhile, airports in Turkey (+0.6%) and Russia (+0.4%) achieved a full recovery.

Europe’s Larger Hubs Underperform Compared to Regional/Smaller Airports

Passenger traffic at Europe’s Major hubs (the top 5 European airports) in H1 remained at -8.9% below their pre-pandemic (H1 2019) levels, underperforming the European average.

  • London-Heathrow (-4.3%) re-established itself as the busiest European airport in H1, handling 37 million passengers. The Turkish hub Istanbul (+10.4%) came second with 35.6 million passengers and remains the only Major exceeding its pre-pandemic volumes.
  • Following in third, fourth, and fifth place, Paris-CDG (-12.6% | 31.8 million passengers), Amsterdam-Schiphol (-17% | 28.7 million passengers) and Madrid (-2.7% | 28.5 million passengers).
  • However, by June, Frankfurt (-20.1% | 26.9 million passengers) had rejoined the top 5 league, replacing Madrid in fifth. 

Amongst other large airports (Group 1)4, the only ones having fully recovered their pre-pandemic passenger volumes in H1 were those which primarily serve leisure/VFR demand and also benefit from strong transatlantic demand: Lisbon (+8.7%), Athens (+7.3%), Palma de Mallorca (+3.8%), Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (+1.6%) and Dublin (+1.5%).

At the same time, regional and smaller airports5 (+0.4%) fully recovered their pre-pandemic (2019) passenger volumes in H1 – and closed the month of June at +2.2%. There were also significant differences in performance amongst these airports, with airports that serve popular tourism destinations and rely on Low-Cost Carriers often posting impressive performances.

These include for H1: Trapani (+163%), Perugia (+137%), Kutaisi (+82%), Zaragoza (+57%), Memmingen (+49%), Funchal (+41%), Lodz (+38%), Beauvais (+37%), Zadar (+23%), Ponta Delgada (+20%), Paphos (+19%) and Menorca (+18%).

European Airport Freight & Aircraft Movements

During the first half (H1) of the current year, the European airport network experienced a notable contraction in freight traffic, recording a decrease of -7.1% compared to the same period in the previous year. This decline becomes even more pronounced when juxtaposed with pre-pandemic levels (H1 2019), registering a sharp fall of -11.7%. 

Upon scrutinizing the freight traffic data from the top ten European airports, a handful demonstrated resilience, countering the overall declining trend and posting positive growth in H1 compared to pre-pandemic volumes. Istanbul leads the pack with an impressive surge of 28%, while Milan-MXP follows closely with a 24% increase. Leipzig/Halle reported a commendable 20% growth, Madrid saw a 17% uptick, and Koln-Bonn recorded a 14% improvement. 

On another note, aircraft movements across the European airport network in H1 displayed a +15.5% increase relative to the same period in the previous year. However, when contrasted with pre-pandemic levels (H1 2019), a decrease of -11% is observed.

European Airport H1 Performance by Airport Groups

In the first half of the year, airports segmented into four groups based on annual passenger numbers reported varying degrees of recovery compared to pre-pandemic levels. Those handling more than 25 million passengers (Group 1), between 10 and 25 million passengers (Group 2), between 5 and 10 million passengers (Group 3), and less than 5 million passengers (Group 4) recorded average changes of -10%, -10.1%, +1.7%, and -1.2% respectively, compared to H1 2019. 

Several airports reported significant increases in passenger traffic for H1 compared to the same period in 2019.

In Group 1, Istanbul IST led the way with a +10.4% growth, followed by Lisbon (+8.7%), Athens (+7.3%), Palma de Mallorca (+3.8%), and Istanbul SAW (+1.6%). 

For Group 2, Milan BGY reported a noteworthy increase of +18.2%, with Porto (+14.9%), Naples (+14.2%), Malaga (+9.3%), and Catania (+9.0%) trailing behind. 

Within Group 3, Sochi airport demonstrated a staggering +95.1% increase, with Almaty (+50.1%), Belgrade (+25.8%), Rhodes (+15.5%), and Krakow (+14.8%) also showing substantial growth. 

Finally, Group 4 airports saw Tirana leading with an impressive +105.1% increase. Yerevan (+62.6%), Memmingen (+49.1%), Vrellë/Lipjan (+44.0%), and Funchal (+41.0%) also demonstrated significant rises in passenger numbers. 


1 Visiting Friends & Relatives.
2 EU, EEA, Switzerland and UK.
3 Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Türkiye, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
4 Airports with more than 25 million passengers per annum (2019).
5 Airports with less than 10 million passengers per annum (2019).

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