Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport operator sought no hiding place when it termed 2022 a “poor year” in last week disclosing an operating loss of €77 million ($82 million).
The poor year encompassed more than just the financial impact, to the tune of €120 million in extra costs, of the disruption and cancellations incurred as labour shortages wrecked its ability to keep pace with ramping up passenger demand.
"Never before in Schiphol’s history have we disappointed so many travellers and airlines as in 2022,” admitted its new chief executive Ruud Sondag, describing it as a” bad chapter” in its own history books. "But it is also a chapter we will not forget, so that all new chapters we write will be better.”
While the Dutch hub was far from the only airport, particularly in Europe, forced to grapple with such challenges, it is the highest profile. That is in part because it is still battling to fully resolve these issues. So though it has this week announced plans to ”gradually” expand the number of departing passengers this summer, it is looking to ease the strain at peak times during the May holidays. “This means 5% fewer seats can be booked,” it says.
Home carrier KLM says it is “disappointing” Schiphol has the limits in place, albeit on a small scale. While it will not cancel flights as a result, it says Schiphol’s decision will means it will curb the sale of tickets on the Dutch market.
It serves as a further reminder that despite optimism that Europe’s air transport ecosystem will be better prepared this summer, that challenges remain. That is even before other elements, such as labour disputes and technology issues – examples of which have both recently flared in Germany – are added to the mix.
Lufthansa itself this week took the step of reducing its schedue for th summer to avoid the risk of major operational challenges this ummer. "At present, the personnel bottlenecks in the industry throughout Europe have not yet been completely overcome, and training of newly hired colleagues is still underway in many cases. For this reason, flights for the summer months have already been cancelled - well in advance," the company says.
ACI Europe does not see airports in the region returning to pre-pandemic passenger levels until 2025 and, while many reported stellar growth last year, it was off a low base. That applies to airports across the globe. For example, a strong end to the year enabled Dubai International airport to this week report that it had surpassed its traffic projections in handling 66 million passengers last year. That though remains 20 million below 2019.
It means that while the busiest airports in 2022 have a more familiar feel about it, not least with Atlanta Hartsfield retaining its position as the biggest by passenger number, a full return to business as usual remains some way off.