Study: air traffic in Europe returned only to the level of 2009

Study: air traffic in Europe only returned to 2009 levels

On the eve of its 32nd Annual Congress and General Assembly, the International Airports Council of Europe — ACI Europe — published the State of the Airports Industry Report 2022, which clearly shows that the recovery of European air services after the COVID-19 pandemic is uneven and still “creaky”. The reason lies in the incompletely lifted travel restrictions, the impact of geopolitical events and structural changes in the aviation market. 

So, the main conclusion of the report: air traffic in Europe as a whole is still at the level 2009.

More than 2 years have passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite a surge in passenger traffic this summer, air traffic across the European airport network is still 29 percent below its pre-pandemic levels, i.e. in 2019. This means that as of June 2022, civil aviation in Europe is back to where it was in 2009 when the Great Recession hit. 

However, there are significant differences between national markets:

Greece is the only country that has now fully restored its air service, followed by Turkey (–3%).

Among the major EU markets, Spain (–23%), followed by the UK (–28%), Italy (–32%) and France (–34%).

Germany with minus 39 % comes last

At the other end of the “rating” Ukraine — it lost all its air traffic, and Russia with a minus of 62% and Belarus (–78%) are clearly suffering from international sanctions.

It should be noted that direct flights within Europe in currently they are only minus 16% compared to the level before the pandemic, that is, in 2019, but direct flights between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region have sagged more than 2 times — minus 52%.

One of the important findings of the — there has been a structural shift in the European market: low-cost, low-cost carriers now account for 40% of direct flights, up from 27% before the pandemic. The share of large full-service airlines thus fell from 73% to 60%.

Small and regional airports with fewer than 5 million passengers are recovering faster, but their future is more uncertain. The report shows that, 33% of them as of June 2022 have returned to pre-pandemic levels, and only one of the largest airports with a passenger flow of more than 25 million passengers did this — Palma de Mallorca. But it serves mainly the intra-European tourist market.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Istanbul and London Heathrow are the most successful in dealing with the consequences of the crisis.

In absolute terms, Amsterdam's Schiphol, down 10% from 2019, is once again in first place in terms of direct flights, followed by consistently stable Istanbul (–5%), while London's Heathrow (–13%) is up again from 7 3rd position compared to last year.

Followed by: Lisbon (-4%), Athens (-6%) and the second Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport (–6%). They have nearly regained their pre-pandemic direct service, with London's Gatwick (–8%) and Dublin (–7%) back in the league's top 20 after falling last year. 

Top 20 global hubs dominated by European airports

European large hubs in general, having minus 26% of the normal load level, showed significantly greater resilience than minor hubs (–51%) and niche and small hubs (–35%).  This is understandable, because they are the main forces of network airlines with a diversified route network. 

At the global level, European airports have come out on top again this year. 9 of the top 10 airports are in Europe. 

Frankfurt (–29%) has regained its pre-pandemic position as a leading global airport. Istanbul is in second place, actually improving its position by +11%, followed by Amsterdam Schiphol (–33%), which regained the 3rd position it held before the pandemic. 

Interesting that in 2021, the opposite was true: the top 20 global hubs were dominated by North American airports due to their dependence on a vast and largely unrestricted domestic market.

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