A raft of passenger statistics from the European airports sector provides further evidence of resurgent passenger demand across the continent.

As part of its six month data release, airport trade body ACI Europe notes a massive fall in the continent’s passenger numbers through the first half of the year against the same period pre-pandemic, down by 76.9% across the European airport network.

London Heathrow T5 August 2021

Source: Yau Ming Low/Shutterstock

London Heathrow airport handled 1.5 million passengers in July 2021

Compared to the same period last year this represents a fall of 36.2%, with facilities in the EU, EEA, UK and Switzerland falling behind their counterparts in Russia and Turkey, where demand has been bolstered by domestic traffic.

However, the data also highlights a significant uptick for July, with traffic down a relatively mild 51% across Europe for the month compared with 2019, and total passenger volumes doubling from the same month in 2020.

“The improvement in passenger traffic started gaining some real momentum only over the month of July,” comments the group. “This was clearly facilitated by the EU Digital Covid Certificates as well as the UK and Ireland better aligning their travel regime with the rest of Europe, and finally accepting that vaccinated travellers do not need to quarantine.”

“On 1 August, the height of the summer season, passenger traffic stood at -38% compared to the same day in 2019 - with airports in the EU+ area at -43% and those in the rest of the continent at -18%”, it continues.

Data from individual airports also appear to show an industry emerging from the decimated passenger levels seen in the first half of the year.

Announcing its passenger data for the month, London Heathrow airport says that July passenger traffic increased by 74% compared to a year earlier, with over 1.5 million travellers passing through the facility.

“The relaxation in rules has provided a much-needed boost to the UK travel industry, and enabled people across Britain to look forward to a more normal summer reuniting with family and friends abroad,” the UK gateway states.

It notes that North American passenger numbers grew by nearly 230% year-on-year, with New York JFK airport reclaimed the top spot as Heathrow’s most popular route.

On 10 August, Brussels South Charleroi airport reported its “first encouraging results since March 2020”, with over 558,000 passengers crossing the tarmac in July. “These results are better than those that were expected at the beginning of the season, but still 31% below the figure for July 2019”, it comments.

The passenger volumes represent a 118% month-on-month increase from the 256,355 passengers seen in June.

Likewise in Ireland, Dublin airport says it processed 658,000 passengers in July – more than double that of June.

Although the figures show an 81% reduction against pre-Covid levels, they are a huge increase from the 381,000 passengers it handled in the same month last year.

The largest reductions in passenger numbers compared to 2019 were seen to the US, UK, and on long haul routes, Dublin airport states, although volumes to Europe were still down by over three quarters.

In Norway, state-owned airports operator Avinor reported 10 August that nearly 2.4 million passengers passed through its facilities in July, an increase of 31% on last year but a decrease of 53.6% on 2019.

“The summer turned out to be somewhat better than first expected, with more travellers. Due to an ever-increasing degree of vaccination, Avinor still expects a peak in international traffic around the autumn holidays, primarily related to leisure travel”, it comments.

Nine of the company’s airports in the north of the country reported higher passenger traffic than in 2019, benefitting from a bounce in domestic traffic while international travel remained challenged.

In the Mediterranean, Malta airport said on 10 August that 312,000 passengers used the facility in July – a decrease of 39% against the same month in 2019.

However it represents a significant increase on the 190,500 passengers that passed through the airport in June, when volumes were down 74% on two years earlier.

Combined, the data from Europe’s airports paint a picture of rapidly growing passenger numbers across much of the continent, as vaccination rollouts allow travel restrictions to be pared back.

Yet despite this, ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec warns that “2021 is not going to be the year of our recovery – far from it”.

He warns that although passenger levels are increasing, airports are struggling to secure revenues and are relying upon debt to sustain their operations.

“The outlook beyond the peak summer months remains uncertain, and is dependent on further progress with vaccination both in Europe and globally. Crucially, it is dependent on more Governments allowing and effectively facilitating travel on that basis. Our eyes are especially on the US market, which remains closed to European travellers, increasing the level of frustration on both sides of the Atlantic with each day,” he comments.