The Airports Council International Europe (ACI EUROPE) has issued the 2022 Airport Industry Connectivity Report, which depicts the unbalanced and problematic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic of the European air sector.
According to the report, a few factors were at blame for the unsuccessful recovery of European air connectivity. The remaining travel restrictions, which are still maintained to allegedly “prevent the spread of the virus” in various territories, is a prevalent reason. The Ukraine-Russian war and the aviation market’s structural changes.
The results offer a more candid representation of the recovery of the air industry from a traveller perspective. The truth is far more complex than mere numbers of flights or passengers. With regard to destinations, direct and indirect flights, and hub availability, the various indexes used to evaluate air connectivity capture the complete level of air connectivity available from every European airport. Additionally, they assess how well hub airports facilitate connection.
Talking about the report, Olivier Jankovec, Director-General of ACI Europe stresses: “This report is a crucial part of the jigsaw as we recover. Europe’s air connectivity is essential to its economic competitiveness and social cohesion. With both societal and regulatory pressures on aviation, ensuring an understanding of the value of air connectivity by all our partners is important.”
Air connectivity is only at Great Recession levels
Total air connectivity across the European airport network is still at 29% below prepandemic level (2019), even though the pandemic itself has spanned more than two years and the passenger volumes have been on the increase this summer.
What this means is, as of June 2022, Europe’s air connectivity only recovered to the level of 2009 - Great Recession level.
This index, however, represents only the average of the entire continent, veiling the notable differences in national markets. In fact, Greece is the only country to have recovered fully in its air connectivity, with Turkey coming in a close second, at 3% under pre-pandemic level.
Among other important European markets, Spain is at -23%, the UK is at -28%, Italy is at -32%, France is at -34%, and Germany is at -39%.
Ukraine, who is suffering heavily from the ongoing conflict with Russia, who is at -62%, has lost all of its connectivity. Belarus, the country closely related in the conflict, saw its connectivity taking a nosedive as well (-78%).
Indirect and hub connectivity are struggling
In terms of connectivity, indirect and hub connectivity have been experiencing difficulties in their recovery, being at -36% and -34% respectively. Meanwhile, direct connectivity is seeing positive results, being at -15% pre-pandemic levels. This reflects the fact that the recovery of the air industry has been sustained by the need for leisure or visiting loved ones and upheld by ultra-low cost carriers’ (LCCs) capacity expansion.
An important structural shift
The pandemic has engendered an important shift in the structure of the European market, with LCCs making up for 40% of air connectivity, increasing 27% from pre-pandemic levels. The percentage of Full Service and other carriers has dropped from 73% to 60%.
Smaller regional airports experienced a quicker recovery
Small and regional airports (Group 4 category - those that carry less than five million passengers) have witnessed a faster recovery in connectivity. However, the future prospects are up in the air. As of June 2022, a third of these airports have recovered their direct connectivity to pre-pandemic level, whereas only one Group 1 airport, Palma de Mallorca (Spain) has achieved the same feat.