Europe’s airports saw the slowest growth in passenger traffic in five years in 2019, according to airports association ACI Europe.

Passenger numbers rose 3.2% year on year in 2019 to 2.43 billion, but that was half the rate of 2018.

ACI Europe blamed the slowdown on a 1% decline in domestic traffic and a “strong deceleration” in the market beyond the EU.

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International traffic rose 4.6% year on year, but freight traffic fell by almost 2% – the worst performance since 2012.

Traffic growth at EU airports slowed over the course of 2019 from 4.8% in the first quarter of the year to 1.9% in the fourth quarter owing to “airline bankruptcies” as well as more-limited capacity growth.

ACI Europe reported Europe’s passenger traffic grew by almost one third (32%) or 595 million between 2014 and 2019.

Oliver Jankovec, ACI Europe director general, forecast further airline consolidation and said: “There are few if any signals that airlines may be considering more capacity expansion.”

He added: “The immediate question is what happens with the coronavirus. The traffic impact so far has been marginal and mostly limited to airports with direct air services to China.”

But Jankovec warned: “As wider economic consequences kick in the impact on air traffic could become more widespread and significant.”

He suggested the top-10 airports in the EU and UK would lose 475,000 passengers or 1.2% of traffic in February due to the outbreak.