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Summer passenger numbers at European airports ‘cannot be called a recovery’

Passenger traffic in the European airport network almost halved in July over the same period pre-pandemic 2019, new official figures reveal.

Total came despite passenger volumes more than doubling during the month compared to July 2020 – at 133.4 million up from 57.4 million, according to European airport trade body, ACI Europe.

Hubs and larger airports significantly underperformed in July due to tight restrictions on international travel beyond Europe.

Heathrow numbers slumped by 80.5% as it fell to Europe’s 16th busiest airport, while Gatwick was down almost 90%, ranking it in 64th position.

The five busiest airports in the first half of the year were in Russia and Turkey.

July saw Paris-CDG (-58.9%) and Amsterdam Schiphol (-54.9%) rejoining the top five league in fourth and fifth position respectively.

Istanbul retained in the top spot, followed by Antalya and Moscow Sheremetyevo.

ACI director general Olivier Jankovec said: “The easing of travel restrictions for intra-European travel and the EU digital Covid certificates have allowed passenger traffic to finally improve across Europe, giving airports some oxygen over the months of July and August.

“But make no mistake, this cannot be called a recovery. We are still 66% below pre-pandemic volumes so far this year – and the improvement has predominantly benefited smaller airports relying on domestic and leisure traffic.

“As we have exited the peak summer holiday period, passenger traffic is no longer improving in many markets. In fact, it is plateauing and even decreasing again, with business travellers not there to take over from holiday makers.

“Of course, this is due to travel regimes which still remain unaligned with restrictions and conditions difficult to navigate. But beyond obvious demand factors, supply issues are also starting to holding back further progress. Air connectivity remains very much degraded across Europe – this is acutely felt in the business travel sector in particular.”

He added: “We are anxiously waiting for the UK to reconsider its current restrictions and further ease cross-border travel. This should finally allow UK airports to close the gap with the rest of the industry but would also benefit airports in many other European markets.

“And crucially, we need to do away with restrictions to international travel for fully vaccinated travellers both within and beyond Europe. The transatlantic market and EU neighbouring countries are absolute priorities in this regard.

“Covid-19 vaccination is proven to be highly effective against hospitalisation and death. This has completely changed the paradigm of the epidemiological situation and related risks.

“Yet, by relying predominantly on infection rates, the criteria used to assess such risks fail to reflect this new reality. This must be urgently addressed – along with a push for the EU Covid-19 digital certificate to become the global standard.”

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