European traffic growth in 2008 as a whole virtually stopped, Eurocontrol says, even though in the early part of the year apparently healthy growth was still holding up. The figure for the year was 0.01% growth compared with 2007, says the agency - the lowest since the 9/11 terrorist action damaged the air transport economy.

Traffic growth has averaged 3% annually over the past six years, but now Eurocontrol predicts a 2009 decrease of 3% in the number of flights, mainly caused by declines in west and central Europe.

Last year, growth on average was 200 extra flights a day, says Eurocontrol. In in Italy, the UK and Spain there were respective declines of -2.7%, -1.7% and -2.1%, while growth continued in Eastern Europe, particularly Poland (9.8%) and Turkey (8.3%).

The annual figures, says Eurocontrol, "mask a strong downturn in the last two months of the year. In December, traffic overall fell by 7% and three-quarters of states saw declines." Meanwhile, the agency says, "low-cost traffic saw its first drop in 15 years, with 4,600 flights a day in November 2008 compared with 4,900 in November 2007".

After three years of strong growth, business aviation traffic has fallen gradually since July. In December 2008 there were 1,450 business flights a day, compared with 1,730 in December 2007 - a 16% fall.

Despite growth stagnation, delays related to air traffic control capacity, staffing, weather and aerodrome capacity were up by 10%. Eurocontrol's director general David McMillan says that 2008 "was a difficult year for air transport, and 2009 is set to be even tougher. However, demand in the longer term is still set to rise substantially, with traffic surging to 18 million in 2030. This is no time to lose sight of the long-term challenges and goals, because the challenges ahead continue to require decisions and actions today."

Source: Flight International