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Ireland and UK Lead Europe in Airport Traffic Recovery

Air travel across Europe has made significant progress towards a full recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with Irish and UK airports leading the way in passenger traffic growth, according to a recent report from the Airports Council International (ACI).

The report found that European airports saw a 69% year-on-year increase in passenger levels in January, largely driven by soaring traffic across Ireland and the UK. Irish passenger levels rose by an impressive 115% in January compared to the same month last year, when pandemic-related travel restrictions had halted recovery. The UK had the highest increase, rising year-on-year by 128%, with Cyprus coming in third, increasing by 111%.

The ACI stated that international travel was the primary driver of the recovery, with a rise of over 85%, while domestic travel showed a lower pace of expansion. Approximately 42% of Europe’s airports have now recovered their pre-pandemic traffic volumes, according to ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec, who added that the group expects more airports “to hit the same milestone in the coming months.”

The report noted that the growth was also attributed to continued capacity expansion by ultra-Low Cost Carriers and the recent lifting of pre-departure testing requirements for travellers from China, which should keep driving the recovery forward for airports.

Dublin airport, among airports with 10 to 25 million passengers annually, reported one of the strongest annual recoveries, with passenger traffic rising by 113.5% in January compared with the same month last year, trailing behind Stansted, Gatwick, Rome and Manchester. Among airports with less than 5 million passengers per year, Cork airport also reported one of the strongest recoveries, with passenger numbers rising annually by 146.6%, closely following Leeds, Nuremberg, Dresden and Florence.

The EU+ Market, which includes the European Union, the UK, Switzerland and EEA countries, led the growth with passenger traffic growing 82% in January compared with the same month last year. Compared with January 2019, passenger traffic in 2023 stood at -11%, the best monthly performance and thus closest to a full recovery since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When compared with pre-pandemic levels, 11 national markets achieved or exceeded a full recovery at the start of this year, with airports in Portugal and Cyprus ranked first, and Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Germany at the bottom.

In terms of the busiest European airports in January, Istanbul claimed the top spot with 5.64 million passengers, followed by London-Heathrow, Paris-CDG, Madrid and Amsterdam-Schiphol.

As vaccination campaigns continue and travel restrictions ease, the air travel industry is hopeful for a full recovery from the pandemic. While the situation remains unpredictable, the current trends indicate that airports across Europe are on track to regain their pre-pandemic passenger volumes in the near future.

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