ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec: “The [coronavirus] impact on air traffic could become more widespread and significant for Europe’s airports”

EUROPE. Airport passenger traffic in Europe grew by +3.2% in 2019 – just over half the growth rate registered in 2018 (+6.1%) and the weakest performance in five years. However, a record 2.43 billion passengers passed through Europe’s airports last year.

Airports Council International (ACI) Europe said the weaker growth was mainly due to stronger deceleration in the non-EU market, declining domestic traffic, and airline bankruptcies and capacity restraint in the EU market.

The passenger growth slowdown in 2019 was more significant at non-EU airports. Domestic traffic dropped -1.1% but international traffic was up +4.6%. Aircraft movements only increased by +1.1% during the year and became negative in the fourth quarter, at -1.2%.

“Over the past five years, Europe’s airports have increased their passenger traffic by more than +32% – meaning they have actually accommodated an extra 595 million passengers since 2014,” said ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec. “But 2019 has been a pivotal year. Volumes were still up, but the deceleration has been notable on the back of both supply and demand pressures.”

Looking at the months ahead, Jankovec noted that many airports have planned for continued lower growth in passenger traffic in the face of uncertain trading conditions. He commented: “Some of the supply side pressures might start easing, especially if the 737 MAX is finally approved to fly again and if the recent decrease in oil prices is not reversed. However, there are for now few if any signals that airlines may be considering more capacity expansion – and further airline consolidation remains an ongoing reality.”

The coronavirus outbreak also casts a shadow. “Europe’s airports have been coordinating closely with and assisting public health authorities in their containment efforts,” noted Jankovec. “The traffic impact so far has been marginal and mostly limited to those airports with direct air services to China. We estimate that in February, the top 10 EU/UK airports will collectively lose 475,000 passengers, which should amount to just 1.2% of their total traffic for the month.

“But as wider economic consequences start kicking-in in China and potentially beyond, the impact on air traffic could become more widespread and significant for Europe’s airports.”

The fastest growing airports by category in December, as reported by ACI Europe (click to enlarge)

EU airports saw passenger traffic increase by +3.3% in 2019 (compared with +5.4% in 2018). This resulted in 57.8 million additional passengers over the previous year – the equivalent of the yearly traffic handled by Madrid Barajas Airport, ACI Europe said. The EU market accounted for 76% of the total passenger traffic growth in Europe in 2019.

The pace of growth halved as the year progressed, from +4.8% in the first quarter to +1.9% in the fourth quarter, although it somewhat rebounded in December (+3%). This mainly reflected the exposure of EU airports to airline bankruptcies as well as EU airlines generally limiting capacity growth and network expansion on the back of less favourable economic conditions and Brexit uncertainties.

Airports in Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Malta, Luxembourg and Portugal grew at more than twice the EU average. Airports in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Greece underperformed while those in Sweden, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia registered declines in passenger traffic.

Among capital and larger EU airports, the highest growth in passenger traffic came from Vienna (+17.1%), Milan Malpensa (+16.6%2), Riga (+10.5%), Berlin Tegel (+10.1%), Luxembourg (+9.5%), Budapest (+8.8%), Tallinn (+8.6%), London Luton (+8.1%), Lisbon (+7.4%), Madrid (+6.6%), Bucharest (+6.4%) and Warsaw (+6.2%).

The fastest growing airports by category in the second half of 2019, as reported by ACI Europe (click to enlarge)

Passenger traffic growth at non-EU airports stood at +3% in 2019 – a significant deceleration compared to the previous year (+8.3% in 2018), according to ACI Europe. This resulted in non-EU airports only adding an additional 18.3 million passengers in 2019.

While airline bankruptcies also affected the non-EU market, macro-economic conditions generally played a bigger role in shaping their fortunes, ACI Europe noted. This resulted in a significant impact on domestic passenger traffic (-3.6%). These factors explain the considerable variation in passenger traffic performance within the non-EU markets. Airports in Ukraine (+22.3%) recorded strong growth, for example, while airports in Iceland slumped (-26.1%). Among the largest markets, Russia grew above the non-EU average (+5.8%), while Turkish airports grew only marginally (+0.4%).

The biggest non-EU passenger growth figures came from Kyiv Boryspil (+21.1%), Tirana (+13.3%), Antalya (+12.8%), Minsk (+12.5%), Yerevan (+12.3%), Moscow Vnukovo (+11.7%), Pristina (+9.6%), Skopje & Sarajevo (+9.3%) and Belgrade (+9.2%).

The ‘Majors’ (top five European airports) saw traffic increase +1.8% in 2019, down from +4.8% in the previous year. Continued physical capacity constraints and airlines limiting expansion were the main factors containing their performance, ACI Europe said.

Collectively, the Majors added 6.5 million passengers, with 60% of that incremental growth coming from Paris Charles de Gaulle (+5.5%), followed by Frankfurt (+1.5%), London Heathrow (+1%), Amsterdam Schiphol (+0.9%) and Istanbul (+0.2%).

The fastest growing airports by category in the fourth quarter of 2019, as reported by ACI Europe (click to enlarge)

Group top performers

In 2019, airports with more than 25 million passengers per year (Group 1), 10-25 million (Group 2), 5-10 million passengers (Group 3) and under 5 million passengers per year (Group 4) reported an average adjustments of +3.0%, +4.8%, +3.0% and +1.6% respectively.

Under this measure, the airports that reported the highest year-on-year increases in passenger traffic during the year were:

GROUP 1: Vienna (+17.1%), Antalya (+12.8%), Moscow Sheremetyevo (+8.9%), Lisbon (+7.4%) and Madrid (+6.6%)

GROUP 2: Kyiv Boryspil (+21.1%), Milan Malpensa (+16.6%), Moscow Vnukovo (+11.7%), Berlin Tegel (+10.1%) and Porto (+9.8%)

GROUP 3: Krakow (+24.2%), Sevilla (+18.3%), Nantes (+16.7%), Bordeaux (+13.3%) and Bologna (+10.6%)

GROUP 4: Ohrid (+72.1%), Kutaisi (+41.6%), Zadar (+32.5%), Bucharest (+25.8%) and Turku (+22.6%)

In December, airports with more than 25 million passengers per year (Group 1), 10-25 million (Group 2), 5-10 million passengers (Group 3) and under 5 million passengers per year (Group 4) reported an average adjustments of +2.2%, +3.2%, +5.0% and +2.7% respectively.

Under this measure, the airports that reported the highest year-on-year increases in passenger traffic during December 2019 were:

GROUP 1: Vienna (+11.6%), Lisbon (+10.5%), Moscow Domodedovo (+8.1%), Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (+7.3%) and London Gatwick & Madrid (+6.7%)

GROUP 2: Budapest (+18%), Tel Aviv (+15.1%), Milan Bergamo (+14.4%), Kyiv Boryspil (+12.6%) and Warsaw Chopin (+11.7%)

GROUP 3: Krakow (+27.6%), Bordeaux (+17%), Malta (+14.7%), Belgrade (+14.1%) and Sochi (+13.4%)

GROUP 4: Ohrid (+116.1%), Zakynthos Island (+76.4%), Dubrovnik (+49.9%), Nis (+47.6%) and Kutaisi (+44.6%)