Passenger traffic recovery in sight for European Airports

European airports think that starting next year, they will regain the volume of passenger traffic they had before the coronavirus crisis. That is a year ahead of schedule. ACI Europe even foresees a slight increase compared to before the Covid-19 disruption, according to their updated Airport Traffic Forecast 2023-2027.

The International Association of European Airports also immediately warns that downsize traffic risks remain high due to, among other things, the economic slowdown in Europe, continued inflation, higher oil prices, and the availability of aircraft and spare parts.

Bright future

IATA, the leading international airline association, had already predicted that, by 2023, global air transport should be almost back to the number of passengers before the health crisis, at 4,35 billion compared with 4,53 billion in 2019.

The positive half-year results of the major European airlines, such as Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, and Ryanair, also confirmed that trend. ACI Europe’s update is in line with those expectations and does not rule out a brighter future for aviation.

Significant differences between EU airports

ACI Europe (Airports Council International) foresees European airport passenger traffic growing by 1,4% next year compared to 2019 and even by 6,5% in 2026 to 9,2% in 2027.

Still, not all European airports will be at that level as quickly. “While close to 50% of Europe’s airports have now exceeded their pre-pandemic passenger volumes, with some even experiencing exponential growth, all others remain below, with some still struggling to recover more dynamically,” says Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “Many airports might not return to their pre-pandemic volumes before 2026, or even later.”

Popular tourism destinations on the rise

Most airports tend not to recover at a similar pace due to the war in Ukraine and structural market changes, such as the prominence of leisure travel and the strength of international intra-European and transatlantic demand.

According to ACI, both factors drive the evolution of airlines’ route networks, much to the benefit of airports serving popular tourism destinations or communities with extensive diasporas. Another critical factor is the remarkable yet selective expansion of ultra-low-cost carriers. This tends to favor secondary and regional airports rather than more significant hubs.

Toward tripling of passengers

Such trends can also be found in the August figures for European airports. Istanbul (+12,4%), in particular, is doing well, followed by Paris-Orly (+10,8), Athens (+8,4%), Lisbon (+5,4%), and Palma de Mallorca (+2,1%). Several airports acting as large low-cost carrier bases recorded impressive increases: Bergamo (+14,3%), Charleroi (+16,5%), Beauvais (+46,7%), and Memmingen (+60,5%).

Other major European airports have a more challenging time reaching pre-pandemic levels: Frankfurt (-15,3%), Paris-Charles-De-Gaule (-12,7%), Amsterdam-Schiphol (-11,1%), and London-Heathrow (-1,6%), although the latter was very close to a full recovery, thanks in large part to its strong position on the transatlantic market.

Airports Council International (ACI) World generally predicts an average annual growth of 5,8% in passenger traffic between 2022 and 2040. By 2040, they expect more than 19 billion passengers will pass through world airports annually. Last year, almost 7 billion passengers took an airplane, up to 53,5% compared with 2021.


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