Europe’s Aviation Recovery Remains ‘Uneven and Difficult’

The recovery of air connectivity around Europe continues to be “uneven and difficult,” despite a strong rebound in passenger numbers this year.

Airports association ACI Europe said the return to pre-Covid levels of connectivity was being held back by some continuing Covid-19 travel restrictions, as well as the impact of the war in Ukraine and “structural changes” in the industry.

According to ACI’s new report, total air connectivity across European airports was still 29 percent lower than during 2019 and was currently at a similar level to 2009, which was the period of the so-called “great recession” following the financial crisis.

Some countries in Europe are faring better than others, although Greece is the only market to have fully recovered to pre-Covid levels of airline connectivity; Meanwhile, Turkey is only 3 percent down compared with 2019.

Among the larger European nations, Spain is performing best at 23 per cent down on 2019, followed by the UK (-28 percent), Italy (-32 percent), France (-34 percent) and Germany (-39 percent).

Unsurprisingly, Russia has seen a 62 percent drop in airline connectivity since 2019, following the position of sanctions by the EU and UK, among others, following the invasion of Ukraine in February which has included airspace flying bans.

ACI also highlights a continued shortage for “indirect” and hub airport connectivity (down by 36 and 34 percent respectively on 2019), which again illustrates how low-cost carriers have fueled the recovery in passenger numbers through their point-to-point services, with direct connectivity only down 15 percent.

The report said this structural shift in the sector towards low-cost carriers “looks set to stay”—these airlines now account for 40 percent of direct air connectivity, compared with 27 percent before the pandemic. This trend is also boosting small and regional airports, which have recovered more quickly than larger hubs.

ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec said: “Connectivity performance varies significantly between airports, national markets and airline business models. These variations also hint to more lasting—structural—changes in Europe’s aviation market.

“Covid-19 accelerated the changes in the market landscape for airports, where competitive pressures are increasing across the board as we see footloose carriers, which today includes both the ultra-low-cost carriers and also the low-cost brands of network carriers, intensively bargain with airports.”

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