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Europe's air passenger numbers 'at lowest level since 1995' last year

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A passenger, wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of coronavirus, sits at the almost empty departures hall at the Zaventem international airport in Brussels,
A passenger, wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of coronavirus, sits at the almost empty departures hall at the Zaventem international airport in Brussels,   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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Air passenger numbers in Europe have fallen to their lowest levels in 25 years during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report has found.

The study by the European airport trade association (ACI Europe), found that passenger traffic at airports fell by 70.4% in 2020. The loss of 1.72 billion passengers last year meant levels were the lowest since before the turn of the century.

"With just 728 million passengers in 2020 compared to 2.4 billion passengers in the previous year, Europe’s airports were back to their traffic levels of 1995," said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe.

In their annual traffic report, ACI Europe found that airports in the European Union were more impacted by the pandemic than non-EU ones.

Airports in the bloc lost 1.32 billion passengers in 2020 (-73%), compared to others in the continent that lost 400 million passengers (-61.9%).

This was mainly due to the size and resilience of domestic markets in Russia and Turkey, ACI Europe said, as well as less stringent lockdowns and travel restrictions.

The most severe decrease in passengers at EU airports compared to non-EU airports was noticed between October and December, the association added.

Passenger traffic fell by more than 90% in Q4 at airports in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Slovenia, and Slovakia, with losses in the UK and Germany more than 85%.

Only Bulgaria, France, Greece, and Portugal slightly outperformed the EU average, although passenger traffic still decreased by more than 75%.

"Within the EU, limited variations in extreme passenger traffic losses also reflected the size of domestic markets and/or the extent of lockdowns and travel restrictions," ACI Europe stated.

Meanwhile, airports in large domestic markets in Russia (-44.2%) and Turkey (-60.7%) proved the most resilient at the end of 2020.

Four of Europe's five major airport hubs in 2019 - London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam Schiphol, and Frankfurt - were also displaced in 2020. Istanbul, moving from fifth to first, became the busiest European airport by the end of 2020.

Another Turkish airport, Istanbul-Sabiha Gocken, was in second place, followed by Moscow's three main airports (Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo)

Aircraft movements across the European airport network also decreased by 58.6% in 2020 compared to the previous year, ACI Europe found.

"No industry can on its own withstand such a shock," said Jankovec.

"While some states have taken steps to financially support their airports, only €2.2 billion has so far been earmarked for that purpose in Europe," he added, "this is less than 8% of the revenues airports lost last year."

ACI Europe did report that freight traffic in Europe had recovered by the end of 2020, although there was still a noticeable decrease of 11.8% compared to the previous year.

"With further decreases in traffic over the past weeks and no recovery in sight, more needs to be done," Jankovec stated.

"Helping out airports is essential to rebuild air connectivity and effectively support local and regional communities and tourism," as well as airports’ future investment capabilities.

Additional sources • AFP