In Q3, passenger traffic across European airports increased by 12.1% compared to last year. Despite higher airfares and inflation pressures in the summer months, they performed exceptionally well.
Compared to the pre-pandemic levels in Q3 2019, passenger traffic was still 3.1% lower. However, this is a significant improvement compared to the first half of the year, which saw a 7.7% decline. It indicates that progress is being made towards reaching the passenger levels of 2019.
There were some notable highlights in Q3. London-Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, surpassed its 2019 traffic performance for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, almost half of Europe’s airports (48%) have recovered their 2019 traffic volumes, showing positive signs of recovery.
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE commented: “The peak Summer season has brought Europe’s airports ever closer to a full recovery in passenger traffic, with demand largely defying inflationary pressures, much higher airfares and geopolitical tensions. But beyond positive headline figures, there were significant variations in traffic performance across both national and individual airport markets. These reflect the impact of the war in Ukraine and, more generally, structural changes in the aviation market. Leisure and blended demand is king, still predominantly focused on intra-European and transatlantic routes – and very much driven by capacity expansion from Ultra-Low Cost Carriers.”
He added: “This aviation market reality comes with increased competitive pressures for airports and continued financial challenges. Unlike airlines, which have been flexing their pricing power and posting record profits, airports are still struggling to reflect inflationary pressures into their user charges – and their profitability remains below what is needed to meet investment needs.”
EU+ Market Shows Strength
In the third quarter (Q3), European Union plus (EU+) airports came very close to reaching their pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels. They were only 4.2% below the numbers from 2019. This is a significant achievement, as the EU+ market is now catching up with the rest of Europe, which had previously been recovering faster.
Both the EU+ market and the rest of Europe saw a similar increase in passenger traffic compared to the same period last year, with respective growth rates of 11.9% and 13.1% in Q3.
EU+Airport Performance by Country Varies Greatly
In the European Union and neighboring countries (EU+), several airports have shown a strong recovery in passenger traffic during the third quarter of 2022. The airports in Luxembourg, Greece, Portugal, Malta, and Croatia have experienced the best recovery, with passenger numbers reaching or exceeding the levels of the same period in 2019.
On the other hand, some airports are still facing challenges in their recovery. Airports in Finland continue to struggle due to the war in Ukraine and the closure of Russian airspace to EU airlines. They are still far below their pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels. Other countries, such as Slovenia, Sweden, Bulgaria, Germany, Latvia, and Czechia, are also lagging, with more than a 15% decline in passenger numbers compared to Q3 2019. It’s important to note that Ukrainian airports have experienced a complete halt in commercial air traffic since February 2022.
Among the larger countries, Turkey’s airports have performed well, surpassing their 2019 third-quarter levels by 6.0%. However, Russian airports have reported a slight decline of 0.6% compared to the same period in 2019.
The situation in Israel was on track for a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels, but the recent conflict has disrupted progress. Despite this, there have been notable success stories in the region. Albania’s airports have experienced significant growth (+114.9%) due to the expansion of ultra-low-cost carriers. Additionally, airports in Uzbekistan, Armenia, and Kazakhstan have seen increased traffic due to shifts caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Major European Airport Performance Reflects Recovery
In the third quarter of this year, passenger traffic at the top five European airports, known as “the Majors,” experienced significant growth of +14.7% compared to last year. However, they are still below their pre-pandemic levels of Q3 2019 by -4.7%.
During Q3, London Heathrow maintained its leading position by achieving a remarkable +22.9% year-on-year increase in passenger traffic. It has even surpassed its passenger numbers from 2019, thanks to a strong performance in September (+4.4%).
Coming in a close second, Istanbul was only 0.7% behind Heathrow, with a passenger traffic growth of +10.8% compared to Q3 2020. Impressively, Istanbul Airport is now +14.1% above its pre-pandemic levels of Q3 2019.
In third place, we have Paris-CDG, which experienced a solid increase of +9.5% in passenger traffic compared to the previous year. However, it is still -12.2% below its pre-pandemic volume from Q3 2019.
Occupying the fourth and fifth positions, respectively, Amsterdam-Schiphol and Frankfurt recorded year-on-year growth of +13.6% and +16.9% in passenger traffic. However, they are still -10.9% and -14.1% below their passenger numbers from Q3 2019.
Other Large European Airports
In the third quarter, the performance of passenger traffic at several large airports showed signs of recovery during the summer. This recovery was mainly due to travel within Europe and transatlantic routes, with a strong focus on leisure travel. The expansion of Ultra-Low Cost Carriers played a significant role in driving this growth.
Athens (+10.2%), Istanbul-Sabiha Gökçen (+8.2%), Lisbon(+5.6%), Paris-Orly (+8.7%), Palma de Mallorca (+2.9%), London-Stansted (+1.3%), Dublin (+1.0%) and Antalya (+0.9%) all surpassed their 2019 Q3 levels.
While remaining –5.2% below its pre-pandemic (Q3 2019) volumes, the recovery of Rome-FCO accelerated as the Italian hub achieved the fastest year-on-year growth among the top 20 airports, with a remarkable +26.1%.