Omicron causes 20% drop in traffic at Europe’s airports
ACI Europe today released preliminary data on the impact of the Omicron variant on European passenger traffic, along with its full air traffic report for November 2021.
It reveals that in the three week period (weeks 47 to 49) following the first report from South Africa to the WHO of the Omicron variant, passenger traffic at Europe’s airports fell by around 20%.
Over the same period, it notes that load factors on flights to/from European airports are estimated to have decreased from 66% (week 46) to 54% (week 49).
However, the past week (week 50), which corresponds with the start of the end-of-the-year festive season, saw passenger traffic increasing by +9% over the preceding one (week 49), with load factors re-gaining 2 points at 56%.
Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe, says: “It is no surprise that the flight bans to Southern Africa and the patchy travel restrictions imposed by many governments on other markets – including within Europe – have directly impacted traffic levels in the past weeks.
“Business travel has been the first to recede, now followed by leisure travel given the extreme uncertainty and prospects of more restrictions both on travel and local life. Last week’s data shows that only ‘Visiting Family and Relatives’ travel is somehow holding up for now, as Europeans are craving getting together and reuniting with loved ones for Christmas.”
ACI Europe further warns that the reversal of the recovery dynamic in passenger traffic over the past weeks and for the remainder of the year means 2021 will end up below its forecast of -60% in passenger traffic for the European airport network, compared to pre-pandemic (2019) volumes.
“Beyond the holiday season, there is no doubt that Omicron will take its toll on passenger traffic in the first quarter of 2022,” admits Jankovec.
“But the extent to which we need to revise our expectations will primarily depend on whether governments continue with knee-jerk reactions or not. Omicron is fast becoming the dominant variant across Europe, which according to the ECDC makes travel restrictions ineffective from a public health perspective and highly damaging both economically and socially.”
November passenger traffic
In November, passenger traffic in the European airport network decreased by -35.2% compared to the same period pre-pandemic (2019) – a marginal improvement compared to the previous month (-36.7% in October).
While airports in the EU+ area kept improving over previous months, they did so at a rather low pace despite the reopening of the transatlantic market (-38.1% in November compared to – 41.2% in October). This mainly reflects the impact of Omicron on their performance towards the end of the month. Meanwhile, airports in the rest of Europe saw their performance worsening in November (-19.0%), compared to October (-17.4%).
The easing of restrictions for travel to North America during the month of November clearly benefitted the ‘Majors’ (Top 5 European airports in 2019), as they saw passenger traffic decreasing by -41.6%, up from -45.6% in October.
And while Istanbul (-30.4%) remained the busiest European airport, London-Heathrow (-50.8%) rejoined the top league for the first time since May 2020, in fifth position. Paris-CDG (-40.8%) came second, followed by Madrid (-35%) and Amsterdam-Schiphol (-41.8%). Frankfurt (-42.8%) did not make it to the Top 5 league but came in at sixth position.