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European Airports Near Full Recovery with July Passenger Traffic

The European airport industry is making an impressive comeback, with July’s passenger traffic reaching 97% of the levels before the pandemic, according to the ACI EUROPE airport traffic report.

London, UK - August 12, 2018 - Departure board displaying time, destination cities and gate information in London Heathrow airport. Credit: Victor Huang
Image Credit: Victor Huang, iStock

Recovery is On the Horizon

Passenger traffic across Europe in July 2023 was just 3% less than that of July 2019. This marks an improvement from June 2023, which recorded a 5.9% dip compared to June 2019. Compared to July 2022, passenger traffic saw an uptick of 12.8%.

Consumer Behavior Shift

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, notes a change in consumer patterns. “These headline figures are symptomatic of a shift from material to experiential consumption, with people valuing travel for leisure and meeting friends and relatives across Europe and beyond more than ever. The consumer confidence resilience and continued momentum in the traffic recovery are even more remarkable considering the cost-of-living crisis and record increases in airfares.” 

Performance Variation

However, Jankovec noted ongoing performance variations between national and individual airport markets. 51% of Europe’s airports are still below their pre-pandemic passenger traffic volumes. “These performance variations reflect a mix of factors – from the impact of the war in Ukraine to the impressive but selective capacity expansion of Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers and relative retrenchment of Network Carriers, as well as some domestic traffic shifting to other transport modes,” Jankovec said.

Top Performers

Airports exceeding their pre-pandemic levels primarily rely on inbound tourism:

  • Iceland (+16.2%)
  • Croatia (+15.7%)
  • Greece (+14.8%)
  • Portugal (+10.5%)
  • Luxembourg (+10.5%)
  • Poland (+7.1%)
  • Malta (+6.3%)
  • Cyprus (+3%)
  • Italy (+2.3%)
  • Spain (+1.3%)
  • Ireland (+0.6%)

On the flip side, other European airports are far from pre-pandemic levels.

  • Finland (-31%)
  • Slovenia Slovenia (-27.4%)
  • Bulgaria (-22.9%)
  • Germany (-19.2%)
  • Sweden (-17.9%)

German airports posted the worst traffic performance of all larger markets. UK (-4.7%) airports progressed toward recovery, as did airports in France (-6.6%).

Non-EU+ Market European Airports

Airports in the non-EU markets achieved a full passenger traffic recovery in July, exceeding their pre-pandemic (July 2019) traffic levels by +3.7%. That’s despite the loss of all air traffic for Ukrainian airports. Compared to July last year, volumes in the non-EU airports increased by +13.4%. The best performers in the non-EU+ market were airports that benefit from Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers’ expansion.

  • Albania (+116.6%)
  • Kosovo (+41.5%)

Other airports benefitted from the shift in demand to/from Russia away from the EU+ market.

  • Uzbekistan (+72.6%)
  • Armenia (+70.4%)
  • Kazakhstan (+66.4%).

The major non-EU+ market of Türkiye (+6.5%) also surpassed its pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels.

Outlook for Major Airports

Passenger traffic at Europe’s Major Airports (Top 5 European airports by traffic) showed contrasting trends and remained at 4.3% compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is primarily due to hub carriers releasing less capacity, and a slow demand recovery from China. Even so, passenger volumes increased by 15.1% compared to July 2022.

  • London Heathrow was the busiest European airport, with a near-full recovery of traffic (-1.2%)
  • Istanbul surpassed its pre-pandemic passenger volumes (16.5%).
  • Paris-CDG (-11.5%),
  • Frankfurt (-13.1%)
  • Amsterdam-Schiphol (-10.6%)

Other large European Airports

The best performers for July compared to pre-pandemic levels in the category of other large European airports were:

  • Athens (+10.6%)
  • Istanbul-Sabiha Gökçen (+8.9%)
  • Lisbon (+5.2%)
  • Palma de Mallorca (+4.1%)
  • Paris-Orly (+3.1%)
  • London-Stansted (+1.8%)
  • Antalya (+1.4%)
  • Dublin (+0%)

Ultra-Low-Cost Airport Bases and Regional Smaller Airports

Once again, Ultra-Low-Cost airport bases exceeded their pre-pandemic passenger traffic volumes in July:

  • Memmingen (+60.1%)
  • Beauvais (+46.8%)
  • Charleroi (+10.4%)
  • Bergamo (+10%)

Similarly, Europe’s regional and smaller airports saw passenger traffic exceeding pre-pandemic levels by +6.2%. Those serving popular tourist destinations and relying on LCC traffic posted the best results. Some saw exponential growth:

  • Zadar (+290.9%)
  • Perugia (+189.6%)
  • Kutaisi (+122.9%)
  • Funchal (+42.7%),
  • Chania (+32.1%),
  • Santorini (+31.9%)
  • Kerkyra (+31%)

Freight & Aircraft Movements

While passenger traffic is up, freight traffic across the European airport network dipped by 4% in July 2023 compared to last year. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, freight traffic is down 11.9%.

Of the top 10 European airports for freight traffic, the best performers compared to pre-pandemic volumes came from:

  • Milan-MXP (+19.7%)
  • Istanbul (+16.4%)
  • Madrid & Liège (both at +12.4%)
  • Leipzig (+10.4%)

Aircraft Movements

Aircraft movements increased 9.3% across Europe’s airport network compared to July 2022. They were down -6.1% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Data by Airport Groups

In July, airports serving more than 25 million passengers per year (Group 1), airports serving 10 and 25 million passengers (Group 2), airports serving 5 and 10 million passengers (Group 3) and airports serving less than 5 million passengers per year (Group 4) reported an average performance of -5.7%, -8.8%, +6.9% and +5.5% respectively, compared to pre-pandemic traffic levels (July 2019).

The airports with the highest increases in passenger traffic for July 2023 when compared with July 2019 were:
 
GROUP 1:Istanbul IST (+16.5%), Athens (+10.6%), Istanbul SAW  (+8.9%), Lisbon (+5.2%) and Palma de Mallorca (+4.1%).
 
GROUP 2:Naples (+22.5%), Porto (+16.8%), Milan BGY (+10%), Málaga (+9.2%) and Marseille (+8%). 

GROUP 3:Sochi (+116.6%), Almaty (+66.4%), Palermo (+26.2%), Belgrade (+22.7%), and Valencia (+20.7%)
 
GROUP 4:Tirana (+116.6%), Yerevan (+70.4%), Memmingen (+60.1%), Beauvais (+46.8%) and Funchal (+42.7%).

A Look Ahead:

The July 2023 statistics reiterate the resilience of European aviation despite challenges and the high demand for air travel in Europe. Moving forward, the focus remains on ensuring smooth travel, passenger safety, and enhancing operational efficiencies.

About ACI EUROPE

ACI EUROPE is the European branch of Airports Council International, the exclusive global association of airport operators. Representing over 500 airports across 55 countries, ACI EUROPE’s members oversee over 90% of Europe’s commercial air traffic. In a robust response to the climate crisis, they pledged in June 2019 to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 without resorting to offsetting.

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