Latest data released by the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe shows a deepening crisis in the sector, with air traffic in a continuing downward spiral.  The data also shows that Europe has 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. This reflected the third wave of COVID-19 infections experienced by these countries with severe travel restrictions and bans as well as wide-spread domestic lockdowns. UK airports were particularly affected, along with those in countries relying exclusively on international traffic.

Meanwhile, airports in Russia and Turkey saw a marked improvement in passenger traffic during this period 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.

“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,” said Olivier Jankovec, DG of ACI Europe. “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.”

Looking ahead, preliminary data for April shows no significant improvement, despite 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%.

Taking stock of the actual performance of passenger traffic during Q1 and of further delayed recovery prospects for international travel, ACI Europe has now released a downgraded traffic forecast for 2021 highlighting that passenger traffic at Europe’s airports is now set to decrease by -64% in 2021, down from a -52% forecast in January. And a full recovery to passenger volumes seen in 2019 has been re-forecast from 2024 to 2025.

With revenues down by €30 billion during 2020, European airports still stand to lose another €29 billion in revenue in 2021. Slow traffic recovery, combined with much increased airport competitive pressures will heavily constrain revenues.

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