European airports lost more passengers in March than in the whole of 2009 when the world was in the midst of a global financial crisis, figures released today by ACI Europe reveal.

Passenger numbers across Europe’s airports fell by 106 million in March, compared with the same month in 2019. By contrast, “it took Europe’s airports 12 months in 2009 to lose 100 million passengers”, states ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec. Passenger traffic declined by almost 60% last month and by 21% in the first quarter of 2020.

“This is like nothing we have seen before,” adds Jankovec. “With repatriation flights bringing back Europeans to their home countries coming to an end, what now remains is essentially limited to cargo traffic as well as sanitary and other emergency air services.”

ACI Europe has altered its projections for the full year downwards, predicting that in a worst-case scenario passenger numbers could decline by as much as 1.2 billion, or 48%, compared with 2019.

Its slightly more optimistic assertion is that European airports will lose 873 million passengers this year, representing a 35% decline over the previous year. Before the coronavirus crisis unfolded, passenger numbers had been expected to rise by 2.3% across Europe’s airports in 2020.

The trade body expects European airport revenues to reduce by between €23 billion ($25 billion) and €29 billion this year.

“For now, what airports are getting to help them through is essentially temporary unemployment schemes – although not from all countries. This is, of course, much welcomed as these schemes help airports reduce costs while retaining their workforce,” notes Jankovec.

“But airports need them to be prolonged as long as necessary, and they also need urgent flexibility on a range of EU regulatory measures that can help them further reduce their costs.”

ACI Europe says it is renewing its call for a “fully co-ordinated European aviation relief plan” to support “all actors in the air transport ecosystem”.