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ACI Europe reports near full recovery in Q1 air traffic for 2024

Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport
Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport.

Revised forecast for 2024 now at +3.2% above pre-pandemic levels — but divergences in performance remain significant across both national markets and individual airports.

BRUSSELS – European airport trade body ACI Europe released its air traffic report for March and the first quarter (Q1) of 2024, along with a revised passenger traffic forecast for the full year 2024.

Passenger traffic across the European airport network increased by +10.2% in March compared to the same month last year, with the growth being predominantly driven by international (+11.7%) rather than domestic passengers (+5.6%).

As a result, passenger traffic came very close to a full recovery – standing just ‑1.5% below pre‑pandemic volumes (March 2019). As has been the case since the start of the year, international passenger volumes exceeded pre‑pandemic volumes (+2.7%) while domestic traffic remained below (-13.2%).

The Q1 results are equivalent to the March data, with passenger traffic across the European network also increasing by +10.2% compared to the same quarter last year and standing -1.3% below pre-pandemic volumes (Q1 2019).

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe commented: “Overall, passenger traffic has kept growing dynamically during the first 3 months of the year. While the Catholic Easter holidays coming earlier helped, demand for air travel generally remained strong against a background of modestly improving macro-economic conditions in the EU and the UK.”

“Looking ahead, we have revised upwards our traffic forecast for the full year and now see passenger volumes in 2024 exceeding pre-pandemic volumes (2019) by +3.2% – instead of +1.4% previously1. This reflects positive prospects for the Summer season, with demand set to remain strong as consumers keep prioritising travel despite much higher air fares. This also reflects sustained but selective capacity expansion from Ultra-Low Cost Carriers, as well as the largest Full Service Carriers finally getting closer to their pre-pandemic capacity levels.” 

Jankovec however cautioned: “The market remains very fragmented in terms of traffic performance,  with only 43% of Europe’s airports having recovered their pre-pandemic passenger volumes. And downside risks are ever-present, in particular linked to geopolitics and supply pressures”. 

ACI Europe_chart

Performace variations across sub-regional and national markets

Airports in the EU+ market2 led the passenger growth dynamic in March, at +11.5% over the same month last year, while those in the rest of Europe3 grew by only +2.8%.

Within the EU+ market, the highest increases compared to March 2023 were posted by airports in the Czech Republic (+32.6%), Malta (+30%) and Slovenia (+22.7%), while the weakest performances came from those in Sweden (-1.2%), Norway (+0.3%) and Finland (+2.5%).

When compared to pre-pandemic levels (March 2019), the EU+ market stood at -1.4%, with airports predominantly relying on leisure/VFR4 demand largely exceeding their pre-pandemic volumes – including Malta (+32.5%), Portugal (+23.1%), Greece (+19.6%), Poland (+19.2%) and Spain (+14.5%). Conversely, airports in Slovakia (‑34.9%), Slovenia (-27.8%), Sweden (‑27%), Finland (‑24.4%) and Germany (‑22.9%) remained farthest from a full recovery. Amongst other large markets, airports in Italy (+8%) posted the best results, followed by those in the UK (‑2%) and France (‑6.4%).

In the rest of Europe, the best performances compared to March 2023 came from airports in Albania (+71.9%), Georgia (+31.3%) and Kosovo (+29.7%), while those in Ukraine remained closed for traffic, and airports in Israel (‑51%) and Russia (‑17.4%) registered significant decreases.

When compared to pre-pandemic levels (March 2019), impressive results were posted by airports in Albania (+233%), Uzbekistan (+159%), Kazakhstan (+95%) and Armenia (+91%). Meanwhile airports in Türkiye (0%) achieved a full recovery and those in Israel (‑47%) and Russia (‑19%) remained in the red.

ACI Europe_chart

Performace variations across airport categories

Passenger traffic at the Majors5 expanded by +10.1% in March when compared to the same month last year but remained at ‑1.8% when compared to pre‑pandemic volumes (March 2019):

  • London Heathrow (+7.9% vs. Mar 2023 | +3% vs. Mar 2019) remained the busiest European airport, with Istanbul (+2.7% vs. Mar 2023 | +8.2% vs. Mar 2019) coming second and followed by Paris‑CDG (+6.6% vs. Mar 2023 | ‑9.6% vs. Mar 2019).
  • Madrid (+10.8.% vs. Mar 2023 | +8.9% vs. Mar 2019) came fourth, followed by Amsterdam Schiphol (+14% vs Mar 2023 | ‑7.3% vs. Mar 2019).
  • Rome-FCO’s impressive growth (+28.1% vs. Mar 2023 | +6.5% vs. Mar 2019) boosted the performance of the Majors.

Amongst Mega and Large airports6, the highest increases in March came from Antalya (+32% vs. Mar 2023 |+14.7% vs. Mar 2019), Prague (+31.2% vs. Mar 2023 | -5.2% vs. Mar 2019), Budapest (+21.7% vs. Mar 2023 | +10.5% vs. Mar 2019), Alicante (+21.3% vs. Mar 2023 | +27.3% vs. Mar 2019) and Athens (+20.1% vs. Mar 2023 | +21.5% vs. Mar 2019).

Medium airports7 registered the best passenger traffic performance, with an average increase of +13.4% in March compared with the same month last year and standing at +8.1% above their pre-pandemic (March 2019) volumes.

Airports reporting the highest increases in that category included Strasbourg (+184% vs. Mar 2023 | -8.6% vs. Mar 2019), Girona (+105% vs. Mar 2023 | +34.9% vs. Mar 219), Tirana (+71.9% vs. Mar 2023 | +233% vs. Mar 2019), Olbia (+56.5% vs. Mar 2023 | +24.4% vs. Mar 2019) and Kutaisi (+38.8% vs. Mar 2023 | +139% vs. Mar 2019).

As in the past months, larger Low Cost bases kept outperforming when compared to pre-pandemic levels (March 2019): Memmingen (+76.4%), Beauvais (+72%), Bergamo (+32.5%) and Charleroi (+24.5%).

Conversely, Small airports8 posted the weakest performance with a +3.2% increase in passenger traffic in March when compared to the same month last year – and remained -35.7% below their pre-pandemic levels (March 2019).

Aircraft movements
Amongst the top 10 European airports for freight traffic, the best performances in March  compared to the same month last year came from: London Heathrow (+20%), Liège (+15.5%), Madrid (+14.4%), Milan-MXP (+14.2%) and Amsterdam (+12.1%). Aircraft movements increased by +6.2% in March across the European airport network compared to the same period last year, and remained -8% below pre‑pandemic levels (March 2019).
Data by airport groups

Throughout March, airports welcoming more than 40 million passengers per year (Majors), airports welcoming between 25 and 40 million passengers (Mega), airports welcoming between 25 and 10 million passengers (Large), airports welcoming between 1 million and 10 million passengers per year (Medium), and airports welcoming between 1000 and 1 million passengers (Small) reported an average change in passenger traffic of –1.8%, +1.2%, -6.5%, +8.1% and -35.7% as compared to their pre-pandemic (March 2019) levels.

The airports that reported the highest increases in passenger traffic (vs March 2019) are as follows:

  • Majors: Madrid MAD (+8.9%), Istanbul IST (+8.2%), Barcelona BCN (+7.9%), Rome FCO (+6.5%), London LHR (+3%).
  • Mega: Athens ATH (+21.5%), Lisbon LIS (+19%), Palma de Mallorca PMI (+17.5%), Antalya AYT (+14.7%), Istanbul SAW (+11%).
  • Large: Sochi AER (+73.4%), Milan Bergamo BGY (+32.5%), Málaga AGP (+29.5%), Catania CTA (+28%), Alicante ALC (+27.3%).
  • Medium: Tirana TIA (+232.3%), Samarkand SKD (+158.9%), Kutaisi KUT (+139%), Astana NQZ (+95.3%), Almaty ALA (+95.3%).
  • Small: Babimost IEG (+164.6%), Baia Mare BAY (+144.4%), Batumi BUS (+96.6%) La Gomera GMZ (+88.8%), Castellon CDT (+87.5%)

 

 

1 October 2023 Forecast (ACI Europe)
EU, EEA, Switzerland and UK.
Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, North  Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Visiting Friends and Relatives
Airports with more than 40 million passengers per annum (2023).
Airports with 10 to 40 million passengers per annum (2023.
Airports with 1 to 10 million passengers per annum (2023)
Airports with less than 1 million passengers per annum (2023).

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