ACI EUROPE has released its latest traffic data, showing European airports welcoming a total of 2.3 billion passengers last year.

The figures means the continent’s air passenger traffic reached 94.6 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in 2023, driven by a 21 per cent increase in international passenger traffic compared to 2022.

As previously reported London Heathrow welcomed 79.2 million passengers last year, restoring its place as Europe’s busiest airport, with Istanbul airport in second place with 76 million, followed by Paris CDG (67.4 million), Amsterdam Schiphol (61.9 million) and Madrid (60.2 million).

Heathrow’s passenger traffic reached 79 million in 2023

Combined these airports added 58 million passengers compared to 2022, but they remained 6.5 per cent below their pre-Covid levels, “mainly due to the relative weakness of the Asian market, the slow return of corporate travel and their hub carriers’ tight capacity control”.

This contrasts with the regions smaller and regional airports, which “completed their recovery in 2023”, posting combined passenger traffic figures up 17.6 per cent compared to 2022, and up 3 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

ACI EUROPE is forecasting a 7.2 per cent increase in passenger traffic this year compared to 2023, which would result in 2024’s figures being 1.4 per cent above pre-Covid volumes.

Last month IATA published its latest data for global air traffic, showing global air traffic reaching 99 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in November.

Global air traffic reached 99 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in November

Commenting on the news Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI EUROPE, said:

“2023 has also been a year of multi-speed recovery and great divergences for Europe’s airports in terms of passenger traffic. While many exceeded their previous yearly record in passenger volumes, 57 per cent still remained below their pre-pandemic volumes.

“Geopolitical conflicts have been a significant contributor to this multi-speed recovery – predominantly affecting airports in Ukraine, Israel, Finland as well as in other Eastern European countries.

“But the Covid-19 induced structural changes in the aviation market are also having a major impact. These structural changes include the prominence of leisure, and VFR3 demand as well as the emergence of ‘bleisure’ demand, along with Ultra Low-Cost Carriers selectively expanding and Full Service Carriers retrenching on their hubs and driving consolidation.

“While these developments have generally benefitted airports in markets relying on inward tourism, there is no doubt they have also resulted in increased competitive pressures for airports across the board.

“Looking ahead at 2024, we are likely to see these performance gaps amongst airports narrowing  – but not closing. There is no doubt geopolitical tensions are part of our new reality, and so are structural changes in the aviation market.

“The big question marks will be about supply pressures and leisure demand resilience – with the latter unlikely to keep defying macroeconomics but becoming increasingly tied to them. We also need to keep a close eye on operational issues, especially border control with the planned start of the Schengen Entry-Exit System next autumn – for which many outstanding issues still need to be resolved.”