European Airline Traffic Displays Strong Recovery Amidst ATC Concerns


Key Takeaways

  • European airline traffic in July nearly reached pre-COVID levels, hitting 97% of 2019 figures, showcasing a significant recovery.
  • Olivier Jankovec of ACI Europe lauded consumer confidence but raised concerns about soaring airfares amidst cost-of-living crises.
  • Airport performance disparities persist, with central hubs lagging, while London Heathrow and Istanbul exhibit notable traffic rebounds, signalling varying recovery trajectories.
  • Recovery trends vary due to factors like the Ukraine conflict, selective capacity expansion, network carrier cutbacks, and shifts in domestic travel methods.

The peak summer travel month of July witnessed European airline traffic nearing its pre-COVID numbers despite increasing airfares.

A report from ACI Europe, the airport’s association, indicated that traffic in July touched 97% of 2019 figures. This represents the most remarkable performance by the European aviation sector since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

According to a Business Travel News Europe report, Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe’s director general, praised the “consumer confidence resilience” and highlighted the sector’s impressive recovery momentum. 

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Jankovec expressed astonishment at the resilience, especially amid a cost-of-living crisis and record surges in airfares.

The report noted that a noticeable trend in the sector’s post-Covid recovery is the performance variations between national and individual airport markets, with 51% of Europe’s airports still not meeting their 2019 passenger traffic figures. 

Jankovec shed light on the mixed factors influencing these variations:

  • Impact of the war in Ukraine.
  • Selective capacity expansion of ultra-low-cost carriers.
  • Retrenchment by network carriers.
  • Domestic traffic switching to alternative transportation methods.

Per the report, while Europe’s central hub airports trail in performance compared to their smaller and regional counterparts, their traffic is only down by 4.3% in July compared to the same month in 2019. 

Interestingly, London Heathrow reinforced its position as Europe’s premier airport in July, closely followed by Istanbul, which exceeded its pre-Covid traffic with an impressive 16.5% jump from July 2019 figures.

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Air Traffic Control Challenges

According to an IATA release, concerns about the ATC performance have been voiced in contrast to the buoyancy shown by airlines. Willie Walsh, the Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), shared his disappointment with the ATC’s performance in Europe and the US.

Airlines and airports’ efforts to minimize disruptions are undermined by the lack of national ATC resources, particularly in Germany and France.

The release noted that Europe’s most congested airports, including London Gatwick, are the worst affected. 

Gatwick’s performance could have been improved by local ATC resource issues, making it the lowest-ranking major airport in a list compiled by Eurocontrol.

The release noted that Walsh’s critique was sharp regarding politicians who previously criticized airlines but are now silent about the inefficiencies presented by government-controlled or regulated ATC providers. 

He stressed the need for accountability for these politicians regarding the economic and environmental repercussions of subpar ATC performance.

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What We Think

The European aviation sector’s revival to 97% of pre-pandemic levels in July is impressive, showcasing consumer resilience amid soaring airfares and economic challenges.

Diverse performance across airports highlights the sector’s nuanced recovery. However, concerns loom over air traffic control issues, notably in Germany and France, impacting airport performance.

Willie Walsh’s criticism emphasizes the need for governmental accountability to address inefficiencies, crucial for economic and environmental repercussions.


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