Airline passenger numbers using European airports last year was 59% below pre-pandemic levels achieved in 2019, new data shows.
This came despite a 37% improvement in 2021 over the previous year, according to trade body Airports International Council (ACI) Europe.
Director general Olivier Jankovec said: “After losing 1.72 billion passengers in 2020, we all had high hopes for a strong recovery in 2021.
“But last year proved another difficult one, as Europe’s airports ended up losing another 1.4 billion passengers compared to 2019.
“This means they remain under considerable stress, with systemic financial weakness across our industry.”
“The knee-jerk reaction of many governments who rushed to reimpose travel bans and other restrictions – including for intra-European travel – has stalled our recovery.
“Yet, these travel restrictions did nothing to stop the spread of Omicron, as recognised just last week by the WHO and also evidenced by a recent Oxera & Edge Health report looking at the situation in the UK.”
Looking at the months ahead, Jankovec said: “Uncertainties as to the evolution of the pandemic remain significant and limit visibility beyond a few months, at best.
“For now, the impact of Omicron is still very much on us as airlines keep pulling out flights and capacity in response to weakened demand in what is already traditionally a low season.
“This means the first quarter will be disappointing, but that we should hopefully see traffic take a better turn as spring approaches.
“Whether this happens earlier depends on the pace at which travel restrictions can be lifted, now that Omicron is prevalent. A number of countries are moving in that direction, but much more needs to be done.
“Today’s planned adoption by the EU of an updated recommendation for intra-European travel should in principle confirm that travel regimes will at long last be based on traveller’s health status rather than their provenance.
“However, this will be meaningless unless governments finally adhere to the plan and effectively co-ordinate.”