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European air travel demand to disappoint in 1Q: ACI

25 Jan 2022 15:09 GMT
European air travel demand to disappoint in 1Q: ACI

London, 25 January (Argus) — European air passenger traffic moved closer to 2019 levels in the final three months of 2021, but the year-total lagged substantially and airports industry body ACI Europe expects a "disappointing" current quarter.

It said today passenger demand will start the year slowly, but director general Olivier Jankovec is hopeful of "a better turn as spring approaches." The group's 2021 report showed passenger traffic across the European airport network increased by 37pc year on year, but remained 59pc below pre-pandemic 2019 levels, as was predicted in October when ACI Europe lowered its 2021 outlook.

Jankovec attributed the "stalled" recovery to the "knee-jerk reaction of many governments who… rushed to reimpose travel bans and other restrictions" that "did nothing" to stifle the spread of Covid-19.

This echoes research by Manchester Airports Group, which encouraged the UK to ease travel requirements on this basis.

"Last year proved another difficult one, as Europe's airports ended up losing another 1.4bn passengers compared to 2019," Jankovec said. "This means they remain under considerable stress, with systemic financial weakness across our industry."

ACI recorded increased passenger traffic between June and November of last year, reaching 65pc of pre-pandemic activity in November. But numbers began to fall away in December, to 60pc of December 2019 bookings, primarily caused by rising cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant and consequential travel bans. The most affected market was what it references as the EU+ — which includes the 27 bloc members plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the UK — where total passenger numbers lagged pre-Covid levels by 66pc in the final month of 2021.

Passenger numbers accelerated faster in the rest of Europe, with traffic increasing by 59pc in 2021 compared with the previous year to be 35pc behind pre-pandemic levels.

ACI has previously said it expects 2022 passenger traffic to move closer to a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels, lagging 2019 levels by 32pc by the year-end, and predicts a full recovery for the European aviation sector in 2025. These forecasts were not altered in today's update.