ACI EUROPE has unveiled its latest traffic data, revealing that European airports played host to a total of 2.3 billion passengers in the previous year.

ACI EUROPE has unveiled its latest traffic data, revealing that European airports played host to a total of 2.3 billion passengers in the previous year.

The statistics highlight that air passenger traffic on the continent reached 94.6% of pre-pandemic levels in 2023, fueled by a remarkable 21% surge in international passenger traffic compared to 2022.

As reported earlier, London Heathrow took the lead by welcoming 79.2 million passengers in the past year, reasserting its status as Europe’s busiest airport. Istanbul airport secured the second spot with 76 million passengers, followed by Paris CDG (67.4 million), Amsterdam Schiphol (61.9 million), and Madrid (60.2 million).

Collectively, these airports saw a boost of 58 million passengers compared to 2022 but still fell short by 6.5% compared to pre-Covid levels. This shortfall is attributed to the Asian market’s relative weakness, the gradual return of corporate travel, and the stringent capacity control exercised by hub carriers.

In contrast, smaller and regional airports in the region completed their recovery in 2023, registering a combined passenger traffic increase of 17.6% compared to 2022 and a 3% rise above pre-pandemic levels.

ACI EUROPE anticipates a 7.2% rise in passenger traffic this year compared to 2023, potentially surpassing pre-Covid volumes by 1.4%. Last month, IATA shared its latest global air traffic data, indicating that global air traffic had reached 99% of pre-pandemic levels in November.

Olivier Jankovec, the director general of ACI EUROPE, commented on these developments, noting the varied recovery rates among Europe’s airports. While many exceeded their previous passenger volume records, 57% still operated below their pre-pandemic levels. Geopolitical conflicts, particularly affecting airports in Ukraine, Israel, Finland, and other Eastern European countries, were identified as significant contributors to this diverse recovery.

Jankovec highlighted the structural changes in the aviation market induced by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the rise of leisure and VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) demand, the emergence of ‘bleisure’ demand, and the strategic shifts of Ultra Low-Cost Carriers and Full-Service Carriers. He emphasized that while these changes generally benefited airports relying on tourism, they also intensified competitive pressures across the board.

Looking ahead to 2024, Jankovec anticipated a narrowing of performance gaps among airports, acknowledging the persistent influence of geopolitical tensions and ongoing structural changes in the aviation market. The uncertainties revolve around supply pressures, the resilience of leisure demand, and the impact of macroeconomics on leisure demand. Additionally, attention needs to be directed toward operational issues, particularly border control, as the Schengen Entry-Exit System is set to commence next autumn, requiring resolution of several outstanding matters.