European airports experienced their slowest passenger traffic growth in 2019 for the last five years, according to Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s latest traffic report.

ACI Europe traffic report

ACI Europe traffic report

The report, which covers all types of passenger flights to, from and within Europe including full service, low cost, regional, charter and others revealed that passenger traffic across its European airport network (46 countries) grew by +3.2% in 2019. Representing half the growth rate registered in 2018 (+6.1%) last year’s figures still resulted in European airports welcoming an impressive 2.43 billion passengers.

Largely driven by a decline in domestic traffic, the passenger growth slowdown was more significant at non-EU airports. The EU market accounted for 76% of the total passenger traffic growth in 2019. It also reflected airline consolidation and limited airline capacity expansion, as aircraft movements only increased by +1.1% during the year and became negative in the last quarter.

The report also illustrated that freight traffic dropped by -1.9% in 2019, the worst performance since 2012. With the exception of December freight traffic remained negative throughout the year with EU airports dragging the performance down by -3.2% while non-EU airports remained mostly positive at +1.9%.

With trade tensions easing and the global economy expected to pick up in 2020 (subject to the coronavirus being effectively contained) its hoped that the freight downturn will bottom out and move towards a recovery over the next 12 months.

Commenting on the slow passenger growth Olivier Jankovec, Director General at ACI Europe said: “Over the past five years, Europe’s airports have increased their passenger traffic by more than +32% – meaning they have actually accommodated an extra 595 million passengers since 2014. But 2019 was a pivotal year. Volumes were up, but the deceleration has been notable on the back of both supply and demand pressures.”

Although many airports have planned for continued lower growth in passenger traffic Jankovec added that some of the supply side pressures might start easing, “especially if the 737 MAX is finally approved to fly again and if the recent decrease in oil prices is not reversed.”

The recent coronavirus outbreak has also caused uncertainty across the industry and the wider aviation and transport market. While the traffic impact so far has been marginal and mostly limited to those airports with direct air services to China, Jankovec stated, “We estimate that in February, the top 10 EU/ UK airports will collectively lose 475,000 passengers, which would amount to just 1.2% of their total traffic for the month.” However, he also warned that “as wider economic consequences start kicking-in in China and potentially beyond, the impact on air traffic could become more widespread and significant for Europe’s airports.”

The exposure of EU airports to airline bankruptcies as well as EU airlines generally limiting capacity growth and network expansion on the back of less favourable economic conditions and Brexit uncertainties correlates with growth halving as the year progressed.

Airports in Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Malta, Luxembourg and Portugal grew at more than twice the EU average. Airports in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Greece underperformed while those in Sweden, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia registered declines in passenger traffic.

While traffic at the top five European airports (Paris-CDG, Frankfurt, London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol and Istanbul) increased overall by +1.8% throughout the course of the year just 51% of smaller regional airports (handling less than 5 million passengers per annum) saw their traffic increasing, compared to 77% for the rest of the industry.

Larger regional airports however recorded impressive gains in passenger traffic as a result of route development strategies and the continued expansion of direct international air connectivity. These include: Krakow (+24.2%), Seville (+18.3%), Nantes (+16.7%), Dubrovnik (+14.1%), Bordeaux (+13.3%), Brest (+11.1%), Bologna (+10.6%), Bari (+10.2%), Porto (+9.8%), Valencia (+9.8%), Naples (+9.3%) and Marseille (+8.1%).

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