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European air transport market development⁵

  • Passenger traffic grew by 6.1% across the entire European airport network in 2018, raising the total number of passengers using European airports to a new record of 2.34 billion. Although 2018’s growth was less than 2017’s (+8.5%), it was nonetheless extremely encouraging considering global economic and geopolitical tensions, in particular, the ongoing trade war between the US and China. Continuous expansion in airline capacities played a leading role, with movements up by 4%, against 3.8% in 2017.
  • In 2018, European airports received 136.6 million passengers more than the previous year. This means that passenger traffic has increased by over a third in the last 5 years (36%), with over 629 million additional passengers, of which 445 million in the EU alone. Managing this growth has been challenging, particularly for airport infrastructures. Capacity and quality have become crucial issues for a growing number of airports across Europe. Such challenges require not only new investments, but also greater operational efficiency.
  • Passenger traffic at EU airports recorded an average increase of 5.4%, down on the growth of +7.7% in 2017 due, in part, to air traffic management issues and airline strikes that limited airport operations in various countries until the start of summer. Traffic subsequently grew more strongly, closing with approximately 7% growth in December.
    Eastern and southern EU country airports achieved the best performances, along with those of Austria and Luxembourg. The worst results came from Sweden, affected by the introduction of a new aviation tax, and from the United Kingdom, due to mounting fears of the impact of Brexit on the economy.
  • Non-EU airports recorded an 8.3% increase in passenger traffic (compared with +7.7% in 2017). However, unlike the EU market, growth followed a downward trend throughout the year, from an impressive +14.6% in January to just +3.5% in December.
  • Europe’s 5 busiest airports recorded a 4.8% growth in passenger traffic, down on the previous year’s 5.5%. The lower performance than the European average mainly reflects capacity limitations, intensifying competition between hubs, and airline strikes. Despite this, the airports gained a total of 16.5 million additional passengers. Frankfurt achieved the highest growth (+7.8%, 4th overall with 69.5 million passengers), thanks to its traffic diversification strategy. On the other hand, capacity limits more than halved growth in Amsterdam-Schiphol (+3.7% compared to +7.7% in 2017, 3rd overall with 71.1 million passengers) and London-Heathrow (+2.7%), which remained the busiest airport in Europe, with as many as 80.1 million passengers.
  • In contrast to the trend in passenger traffic, cargo traffic suffered a sharp slowdown in 2018, with growth of 1.8% (compared to +8.4% in 2017). This slowdown affected EU airports (+1.1%) more than those outside of the EU (+5.6%). The slowdown in cargo traffic cannot be ignored. It reflects the weakening of the economy not only in Europe, but across the world.


5 Source: ACI Europe, Airport Traffic Report December, Q4, H2 & Full Year 2018