Air traffic picks up but Europe’s airports dependent on debt

Europe’s airports remain reliant on debt to operate as air traffic remained in a “downward spiral” in the first half of this year.

Airport association ACI Europe warned the future “remains uncertain” despite passenger traffic starting to gain “real momentum” in July.

Traffic across Europe remained 77% down on 2019 in the first half of 2021 and 36% down on 2020, yet by August 1 was just 38% down on the same day in 2019.

ACI Europe director-general Olivier Jankovec said: “The situation is gradually improving, but 2021 is not going to be the year of recovery.

“Europe’s airports have already lost over one billion passengers this year, more than last year.

“The first six months of 2021 were worse than last year as passenger volumes further decreased by more than a third – the direct result of travel restrictions reinstated at the beginning of the year which remained throughout spring.”

Jankovec noted airports located in the EU, EEA, UK and Switzerland “were by far the most impacted”.

ACI Europe reported the slump in traffic in these markets was double that of the rest of Europe, with passenger numbers down 84% on the first half of 2019 and 55% on 2020.

Airports in the UK and Ireland recorded the worst figures, with Ireland suffering a near 94% shortfall on 2019 and the UK 93%.

Even markets performing more strongly recorded huge shortfalls – Spain 79% and Greece 77%.

However, traffic beyond the EU, UK and Switzerland was down by an average 43% on 2019 and up 36% on 2020 – reflecting both less severe restrictions and, in Russia and Turkey, large domestic markets.

Russia recorded a 27% decline on 2019, Ukraine 48% and Turkey 60% and all five busiest airports in Europe were in Istanbul or Moscow.

By contrast, traffic across Europe’s biggest airports remained 80% down on 2019.

Traffic at Heathrow was 90% down on 2019 in the first half of this year, placing Europe’s biggest airport outside the 10 busiest. Paris Charles de Gaulle, at 82% down, Frankfurt (81%) and Amsterdam Schiphol (84%) still made the top 10.

July finally saw an improvement with traffic across Europe’s airport network increasing to almost half (49%) of the 2019 level and passenger volumes more than doubling on July 2020 from 57 million to 127 million.

But Jankovec warned: “The revenue levels needed to sustain operations are still not there, with debt mostly ensuring airports keep operating.

“The outlook beyond the peak summer months remains uncertain and is dependent on further progress with vaccination. Crucially, it is dependent on more governments facilitating travel on that basis.”

He noted “increasing frustration on both sides of the Atlantic” at the continuing closure of the US to European travellers.

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