ACI EUROPE: Holiday season improvements in passenger traffic “cannot be called a recovery”

posted on 17th September 2021 by Eddie Saunders
ACI EUROPE: Holiday season improvements in passenger traffic “cannot be called a recovery”

European airport trade body, ACI EUROPE, today released its air traffic report for July 2021, as well as preliminary data for the month of August.

The report shows that passenger traffic in the European airport network decreased by 49.3% in July compared to the same period pre-pandemic (2019) – a significant improvement compared to previous months (-74% in Q2 2021).

Total passenger volumes more than doubled during the month compared to July 2020 – at 133.4 million up from 57.4 million.

While airports in the EU+ area1 kept underperforming the European average in July at -56.1%, the improvement over Q2 2021 (-81%) was also significant.

This reflected the role of the EU Digital Covid 19 Certificate, alongside the easing of travel restrictions in many countries.

There were significant variations between national markets across the EU+ area – due to a mix of factors including diverse epidemiological situations, uneven efforts made by Governments to ease travel restrictions, the size of domestic markets and some countries benefitting from tourism/VFR traffic more than others. Accordingly, the best performance came from Romania (-32.6%), Greece (-33.3%), Luxembourg (-44.5%) and France (-46.2%), while Finland (-81.9%), Ireland (-81.7%), the UK (-81.2%) posted the sharpest declines. Germany (-60.8%) also underperformed the EU+ area average.

Meanwhile, airports in the rest of Europe2 saw passenger traffic decreasing by just -20.3% in July – reflecting a complete recovery of domestic passenger traffic (+10.3%) as well as less severe restrictions for cross-border travel.

Amongst national markets, Kosovo (+21.4%) and Albania (+9.6%) exceeded pre-pandemic (2019) volumes. Uzbekistan (-8.3%). Bosnia Hercegovina (-13.2%), Armenia (-15.7%) and Russia (-16.4%) significantly outperformed the bloc’s average, while Turkey (-25.5%) and Ukraine (-25.1%) did not.


In the first half of the year, the 5 busiest airports came from Russia and Turkey. July saw Paris-CDG (-58.9%) and Amsterdam-Schiphol (-54.9%) rejoining the top 5 league in 4th and 5th position respectively. Istanbul (-34.7%) remained in the top spot, followed by Antalya (-27.9%) and Moscow Sheremetyevo (-30.4%).


More generally EU+ hubs and larger airports significantly underperformed in July due to the permanence of tight restrictions on international travel beyond Europe. This dragged the performance of Group 1 airports3  down to -55.6%.

In particular, Frankfurt (-58.9%) only ranked 7th busiest European airport, Madrid 9th (-57%), London-Heathrow 16th (-80.5%), Munich 18th (-69.2%), Stockholm-Arlanda 39th (-64.8%), Dublin 48th (-81%) and London-Gatwick 64th (-89.6%).

Only a few large airports relying on leisure and domestic traffic posted significantly better results with Palma de Mallorca ranked 10th (-42.2%), Paris-Orly 13th (-35.4%) and Athens 15th (-37.8%).


Conversely, mid-size and smaller airports tended to fare better in July, a result of their higher reliance on domestic and intra-European leisure traffic. Accordingly, Group 34 and Group 45 airports saw passenger traffic decreasing by -38% and -34.2% respectively.

Apart from Sochi (+68.2%) standing out with impressive growth over pre-pandemic (2019) levels and ranking amongst the top 20 European airports, the best results mostly came from insular airports serving popular tourist destinations.

These included Ajaccio (+10%), Calvi (+3.9%), Bastia (-6.6%), Santorini (-13.2%) Palermo (-14.2%), Olbia (-14.9%), Mikonos (-17%), Tenerife (-20%), Menorca (-23.4%), Cagliari (-23.7%) and Heraklion (-25.2%).

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE commented: “The easing of travel restrictions for intra-European travel and the EU Digital Covid Certificates have allowed passenger traffic to finally improve across Europe, giving airports some oxygen over the months of July and August.

“But make no mistake, this cannot be called a recovery. We are still 66% below pre-pandemic volumes so far this year6 – and the improvement has predominantly benefitted smaller airports relying on domestic and leisure traffic.

“As we have exited the peak Summer holiday period, passenger traffic is no longer improving in many markets.

“In fact, it is plateauing and even decreasing again, with business travellers not there to take over from holiday makers.

“Of course, this is due to travel regimes which still remain unaligned with restrictions and conditions difficult to navigate.

“But beyond obvious demand factors, supply issues are also starting to holding back further progress.

“Air connectivity remains very much degraded across Europe – this is acutely felt in the business travel sector in particular.”