A full recovery to pre-pandemic passenger volumes at European airports is now expected a year earlier in 2024 rather than 2025.
Airports association ACI Europe today upgraded its 2022 traffic forecast to project a level 22% below pre-Covid 2019 numbers compared with the previous forecast of 32% down published last October.
However, it issued a note of caution, pointing to the “triple jeopardy” of the return of geopolitics, worsening economic conditions and the threat of new Covid variants as creating “significant uncertainty and traffic downside risks”.
European airports will still have 540 million fewer passengers than in 2019 – resulting in a cumulative loss since the beginning of the pandemic of 3.7 billion passengers.
This is equivalent to the total passenger growth achieved over 36 years prior to the pandemic, according to the association.
ACI Europe also stressed that traffic recovery is still largely being driven by leisure traffic and fuelled by expansion of capacity by ultra-low cost carriers.
But traffic downside risks – in particular relating to the war in Ukraine and staffing issues – are disproportionately affecting larger airports.
ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec said: “At the moment, the performance of passenger traffic is trending along our high-case optimistic scenario on the back travel restrictions lifting across many markets and strong summer pent-up demand.
“But the history of the past three years suggests caution, especially as we still do not have an established playbook in Europe – let alone globally – on how to deal with future Covid-19 variants when it comes to travel.
“And beyond the immediate operational challenges from staffing issues, there is no escape from rising geopolitical tensions and stagflation fears meaning risks for air traffic only go one direction – down.”