The latest traffic report from ACI Europe has illustrated the industry’s continued resurgence with March recording the best monthly performance for the European airport network since the start of the pandemic.
For March 2022, passenger traffic across Europe stood at -34.1% compared to 2019 figures, with Q1 recording -39.6% against the same period pre-pandemic.
ACI has attributed the March recovery to the easing of restrictions in EU+ states for both intra-European and external travel on the back of strong pent-up demand. Accordingly, passenger traffic at airports across the EU+ area stood at -34.3% in March, up from -51.1% in January (Q1 as a whole stood at -42.1%).
The best performing markets in the EU+ area in March were Portugal (-16.3%), Romania (-21.8%) and Spain (-21.9%). Worst performing were Slovenia (-61.9%), Slovakia (-58%) and Germany (-51.7%). Airports in the UK (-38.2%) finally came closer to the EU+ area average while those in France (-29.5%) outperformed it.
In the rest of Europe, the Russian war against Ukraine resulted in passenger traffic significantly deteriorating in March to -32.9%, down from -23.8% in January (Q1 at -26.5%).
The slump in March came from the loss of all passenger traffic at Ukrainian airports and of most passenger traffic at Moldavian airports (-94.5%), as well as reduced passenger traffic at Russian airports. The latter resulted primarily from the EU and UK air traffic bans, but also from the closure by the Russian government of more than 10 commercial airports in the southern part of that country. While passenger traffic at Russian airports had recovered their pre-pandemic volumes at the start of the year, it went down to an estimated average of -24% in March at those Russian airports remaining in operation.
Elsewhere in the non-EU+ area, while passenger traffic also deteriorated at Georgian airports (-38%), it kept improving in all other markets including in Serbia (-21%) and Turkey (-24.5%). Airports in Armenia (+0.4%) achieved a full recovery, while those in Albania (+38.9%) and Kosovo (+15.1%) were way above their pre-pandemic volumes.
Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe, said, “The impact of the war staged by Russia in Ukraine on passenger traffic has been contained to these countries and a few others in their immediate vicinity. For airports in the rest of Europe, the easing of Covid-19 travel restrictions not just on the continent but also increasingly for intercontinental travel bodes very well for the summer season.
“The immediate challenge is to manage the sudden surge in traffic given that the pandemic left airports and ground handlers with hugely depleted resources. This now requires re-staffing in what is a very tight labor market across Europe. What’s more, the time required by national security clearance procedures for airport staff combined with training requirements simply make it impossible to adjust overnight. All this, combined with traffic being much more concentrated over peak periods, is putting significant strain on the entire aviation system as we strive to recover,” he said.
The top five European airports saw passenger traffic improving significantly at -34.5% in March, up from -48.5% in January.
Istanbul (-20%) remained the busiest European airport, but London-Heathrow (-35.7%) jumped to second position up from fourth over the preceding month – followed by Paris-CDG (-35.2%), Amsterdam-Schiphol (-33.8%) and Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez (-27.5%).