Airport Insights Report: Top 10 European airports for 2022 and 2023 outlook

1 June, 2023

After a slow start to 2022, traffic at European airports bounced back strongly through the year thanks to a strong northern summer travel period.

At European airports, total passenger throughput nearly doubled in 2022. This occurred despite the nearly unprecedented operational issues experienced through the peak summer travel months (and again at the start of the northern winter period), along with near record oil prices, a war in Eastern Europe, and an uncertain economic outlook denting consumer confidence.

According to ACI Europe, total traffic through its European member airports finished 21% below prepandemic levels. Encouragingly, passenger volumes in Dec-2022 were around 86% of Dec-2019 levels. As of Jan-2023, 42% of European airports had returned to pre-pandemic traffic volumes. The outlook for the full year is for traffic at somewhere around 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

Reordering of European airport traffic in 2022

Along with the rapid recovery in 2022 there was also a significant reordering of Europe's busiest airports compared to the previous year.

This was in part due to the overall acceleration of the passenger traffic recovery in Western Europe nations, along with air travel in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe being put into a tailspin early in the year.

Top 10 European airports by passenger traffic, 2022

In 2021 three Russian airports - Moscow Domodedovo, Saint Petersburg Pulkovo and Moscow Vnukovo - were among Europe's 10 largest when measured by passenger traffic.

Russian air travel rebounded earlier than most other European nations, thanks to a relatively mild experience with COVID-19 over 2020 and 2021 and the decision of Russian authorities to impose relatively limited pandemic-related travel restrictions.

By the end of 2021, scheduled capacity in the Russian market was at 91% of 2019 volumes, against a 78% recovery in Europe more broadly.

However, Russia's travel market recovery underwent a reversal in 2022.

There were two major contributing factors: the double COVID-19 waves the country went through in early 2022 and again in 3Q2022 - which stalled the recovery of domestic traffic - and the global response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, cutting off many international markets.

Following the start of Russia's 'Special Military Operation' on 24-Feb-2022 a series of reciprocal airspace bans were introduced between Russia and states in Western Europe and North America. International seat capacity to/from the country fell by more than 50% in less than a month.

Although capacity recovered slowly through 2022 (with Russian airlines pivoting to more friendly markets), Russian market seat capacity ended the year at just 70% of 2019 volumes. Indications for 2023 are for further progressive recovery, with connectivity with sections of the Asia Pacific still being rebuilt.

Western Europe bounces back

In contrast to the difficulties that developed in Russia, travel through historically strong European gateways accelerated through 2022 as regional and intercontinental networks were re-established. The result was that airports like London Gatwick, Rome Fiumicino and Munich International Airport reentered the top 10.

The primary driver of the recovery was leisure traffic within Europe and to/from sun destinations around the Mediterranean.

Consumers proved persistently eager to resume leisure travel through 2022 and spend the funds they had saved during the COVID-19 lockdown periods.

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The Airport Insights: Top 10 European airports for 2022 and 2023 outlook report from CAPA - Centre for Aviation provides further insight on 2022 performance at Europe's leading airports, including more in-depth observations on each of the ten largest airports in the region.

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