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“A deepening crisis” as air passenger traffic returns to rock bottom levels and recovery forecasts are downgraded

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EU/EEA/Swiss and UK airports saw passenger traffic decreasing from -85% in January to -89% in March – with their Q1 performance standing at -88%.

BRUSSELS - Latest data released by European airport body ACI Europe shows a deepening crisis in the sector, with air traffic in a continuing downward spiral. Passenger traffic in Q1 slumped by -81.7% across the European airport network, compared to the same period pre-pandemic (Q1 2019). This marked a further decrease from the previous quarter (Q4 2020 at -79.2%), resulting in the loss of 395.5 million passengers. 

A two-speed aviation market
A closer look at the data reveals that Europe has become a two-speed aviation market - with airports in the EU/EEA/Switzerland still sinking into the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other European airports led by those in Russia and Turkey are faring much better. 

EU/EEA/Swiss and UK airports saw passenger traffic decreasing from -85% in January to -89% in March – with their Q1 performance standing at -88%. This reflected their countries bracing with a third wave of COVID-19 infections, with severe travel restrictions and bans as well as wide-spread domestic lockdowns. UK airports were especially affected, along with those in countries relying exclusively on international traffic - many of them left with less than 5% of their pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels.

Conversely, passenger traffic at airports in Turkey, Russia and other markets1 improved markedly from -59% in January to -49% in March, with Q1 closing at -54.8%. This is due in large part to airports in Russia and to a lesser extent Turkey and Ukraine, reflecting larger domestic markets combined with less severe lockdowns and travel restrictions. 

Airport rankings highlight shift in external dynamics 
Accordingly, the top 5 European airports in Q1 all came from Russia and Turkey – with Istanbul Airport (-64%) the busiest European airport, followed by Moscow-Domodedovo (-18%), Moscow Sheremetyevo (-60%), Istanbul-Sabiha Gokcen (-48%) and Moscow-Vnukovo (-26%). While Paris-CDG (-82%), Madrid (-81%), Frankfurt (-83%) and Amsterdam-Schiphol (-87%) still made it in the top 10 league, London-Heathrow (-91%) did not. 

Remarkably, Sochi airport (+47%) welcomed more passengers than London-Heathrow as Russians flocked to the Black sea resort city – thus becoming the one and only airport in Europe to post an increase in passenger traffic in Q1.

First-look April data shows no improvement
Preliminary data for April shows no significant improvement, despite the timing of the Easter holidays at the beginning of the month. In the first 10 days of April, passenger traffic at Europe’s airports was down by -80%, with airports in the EU/EEA/Switzerland and the UK at -87% and others at -48.7%. 

Connectivity losses: another 2000 air routes wiped out so far this year 
The state of airport passenger traffic also reflects the continued collapse of air connectivity, with nearly 2000 additional air routes lost since the start of the year – from 6.663 in January to 8.539 in April. 

ACI Europe issues downgraded traffic and financial forecasts
Taking stock of the actual performance of passenger traffic during Q1 and of further delayed recovery prospects for international travel, ACI Europe released a downgraded traffic forecast for 2021: 

  • Passenger traffic at Europe’s airports is now set to decrease by -64% in 2021, down from a -52% forecast in January
  • A full recovery to the passenger volumes of 2019 has been reforecast from 2024 to 2025

ACI Europe’s latest financial forecast, also published today, illustrates the extent of the economic crisis currently facing the industry. With revenues down by 30 billion euros during 2020, European airports still stand to lose another 29 billion euros in revenue this year. A slow traffic recovery combined with much increased airport competitive pressures will heavily constrain revenues – leaving increasing restart costs unrecovered for most airports. 

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, said: “If anything, these figures show not only that the crisis has not receded, but that things have actually got worse for airports since the beginning of the year – especially for those in the EU, EEA, Switzerland and the UK. Beyond rock bottom traffic and collapsed connectivity, there is no escaping the fact that the financial resilience of Europe’s airports is faltering by the day. We desperately need to get the recovery underway during the Summer and are anxious to see the vaccination roll-out finally improving the epidemiological situation."

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