Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has declared 2017 “a vintage year” for air passenger traffic, with volumes growing by +8.5% across Europe’s airport network.

The increase in traffic has been attributed to both the return of a growth dynamic across non-EU markets and a healthy expansion of passenger volumes in the EU.

In non-EU airports, passenger traffic increased on average +11.4% (compared to a decrease of -0.9% in 2016). Airports in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Iceland grew in excess of +20% on average, while Russian and Turkish airports also bounced back with increased passenger volumes from a year earlier.

Among EU airports, the highest growth was achieved by airports in East and South of the EU. Airports in Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta and Portugal all recorded impressive double-digit growth.

Commenting on this increase in traffic, Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe said: “2017 marks the best year for European airports since 2004, when air traffic was boosted by the accession of 10 countries to the EU – the single largest expansion of the bloc. That parallel is quite something when you consider the current climate includes Brexit and all its uncertainties.”

But Jankovec went on to warn that “such significant growth is putting more pressure on airport facilities and staff with more and more airports reaching their capacity limits – especially during peak hours.”
While big hitters (with over 25 million passengers per year) such as Moscow, Manchester, Amsterdam and Barcelona all reported impressive growth as expected, smaller airports welcoming less than five million passengers per year also fared well.

Bucharest BBU (+208.9%) and Craiova (+100.6%) both in Romania, Nis (+167.8%) in Serbia, Batumi (+67.2%) in Georgia and Kaunas (+60.2%) in Lithuania all reported the highest increases in passenger traffic during 2017 for the small airports category.

The top five European airports – London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Istanbul-Ataturk, Amsterdam-Schiphol and Frankfurt – collectively welcomed an additional 18 million passengers in 2017 (+5.5% growth from the previous year). This increase reflected of the continued expansion of low-fare carriers in primary markets and the better fortunes of these airports’ hub carriers.

“The good news is that the European economy and the Eurozone in particular are set for further expansion – with economic sentiment now close to a 17-year high,” Jankovec said.

On the flip side of this though, he highlighted that looking ahead it’s clear the industry needs to be mindful of rising oil prices and consolidation, which is placing more market share with a handful of powerful airline groups. “Couple that with the fast-approaching Brexit deadline and it’s not hard to see why Europe’s airports can expect the temperature to rise, as airlines get even choosier about where they maintain existing capacity or open new routes,” concluded Jankovec.

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