EUROPE. Airports Council International (ACI) Europe today declared 2017 “a vintage year” for passenger traffic, with volumes growing by +8.5% across the region year-on-year.

The performance was boosted by the return to growth across non-EU airports and healthy growth among EU airports.

Full year results: Top five performing airports. Source: ACI Europe

Passenger traffic at non-EU airports posted an average increase of +11.4% (compared to a decrease of -0.9% in 2016), with Russian and Turkish airports bouncing back from a year earlier. Airports in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Iceland grew above +20% on average.

EU airports saw passenger traffic increase by +7.7%, an improvement over 2016 (+6.7%). The highest growth was seen among airports in Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta and Portugal, which all recorded double-digit growth.

Impressive growth: European airports posted a strong year despite challenges such as Brexit, says ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec

“2017 marks the best year for European airports since 2004, when air traffic was boosted by the accession of 10 countries to the EU – the single largest expansion of the bloc,” stated ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec. “That parallel is quite something when you consider the current climate includes Brexit and all its uncertainties.”

He added: “This performance comes on top of several years of dynamic growth and shows that demand for air transport keeps outperforming the economy and defying geopolitical risks – for now.

“It is quite impressive to see that even in the more mature EU market, passenger traffic since 2012 has increased by close to +30%. Such significant growth is putting much pressure on airport facilities and staff with more and more airports now reaching their capacity limits – especially during peak hours.”

Solid growth at major airports

The top five European airports – London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Istanbul-Atatürk, Amsterdam-Schiphol and Frankfurt – saw passenger traffic surge +5.5% in 2017 compared to a +1.5% rise in 2016.

The increase reflected the continued expansion of low cost-carriers in primary markets and better fortunes for hub carriers among these airports. Collectively, they welcomed an additional 18 million additional passengers last year.

Across airports with over 25 million passengers, Amsterdam Schiphol grew at the fastest pace (+7.7%), confirming third position in the regional rankings with 68.5 million passengers. Paris Charles de Gaulle grew +5.4% to 69.5 million passengers.

London Heathrow remained the busiest European airport with 78 million passengers (+3%). Frankfurt Airport posted the second best performance (+6.1%, 64.5 million passengers) and held onto its fourth position, followed by Istanbul Atatürk (+5.9%, 63.9 million passengers).

This ranking is likely to change in 2018 as Amsterdam Schiphol has now reached its capacity limits and growth at Istanbul Atatürk is accelerating (+15.9% in December), said ACI Europe.

Since 2012, the number of European airports with more than 25 million passengers has jumped from 14 to 24, pointing to increasing competition amongst larger airports and hubs. In the same period (since 2012), airports that showed impressive performances included: Keflavik (+267.7%); Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (+105.2%); Split (+98.1%); Sofia (+87.1%); Luxembourg (+87%); Eindhoven (+89.9%); Berlin Schönefeld (+81.3%); Oporto (+78.3%); Lisbon (+74.3%); Athens (+67.9%); Malta (+65.1%); Warsaw (+64.3%); Dublin (+54.9%); London Stansted (+48.3%); Naples (+47.8%); Birmingham (+45.5%); Bordeaux (+40.5%); Barcelona (+34.5%); and Amsterdam Schiphol (+34.3%).

Q4 2017 results: Top five performing airports. Source: ACI Europe

December 2017 results: Top five performing airports. Source: ACI Europe

Passenger traffic growth moderated in the fourth quarter to +6.9%, and in December (+5%) as a result of airline-related disruptions, particularly the collapse of Monarch and Air Berlin. Ryanair’s decision to slow down its growth to solve crew rostering issues also had an impact.“This might be as good as it gets and while we anticipate continued growth in the coming months, it will most certainly come at a slower pace.

“The good news is that the European economy and the Eurozone in particular are set for further expansion – with economic sentiment now close to a 17-year high,”Jankovec commented.

“But on the flip side, rising oil prices are affecting airlines and consolidation is now placing more market share with a handful of powerful airline groups.

“Couple that with the fast-approaching Brexit deadline on the horizon and it’s not hard to see why Europe’s airports can expect the temperature to rise, as airlines get even choosier about where they maintain existing capacity or open new routes.”

Half year results: Top five performing airports. Source: ACI Europe