March has seen the European airport network posting its best monthly performance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to ACI Europe.

The European airport trade body’s traffic report for the first quarter of 2022 reported March’s monthly performance as -34.1% (Q1 stands at -39.6%). This recovery was due to most EU states relaxing travel restrictions on the back of strong pent-up demand.

The report’s findings broken down by sector noted:

· Passenger traffic at airports across the area stood at -34.3% in March, up from -51.1% in January (Q1 as a whole stood at -42.1%). The best performing markets in the EU+ area in March were Portugal (-16.3%), Romania (-21.8%) and Spain (-21.9%). The worst performing were Slovenia (-61.9%), Slovakia (-58%) and Germany (-51.7%). Airports in the UK stood at -38.2%, while those in France were -29.5%.

· Outside the EU, the Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in passenger traffic significantly deteriorating in March, to -32.9%, down from -23.8% in January (Q1 was at -26.5%). This slump came from the loss of all passenger traffic at Ukrainian airports and of most traffic at Moldavian airports (-94.5%). Reduced traffic in Russia resulted primarily from the EU and UK air traffic bans, but also from the closure by the Russian government of more than 10 commercial airports in the southern part of that country. While numbers also deteriorated at Georgian airports (-38%), they improved in all other markets, including Serbia (-21%) and Turkey (-24.5%). Airports in Armenia (+0.4%) achieved a full recovery, while those in Albania (+38.9%) and Kosovo (+15.1%) were above their pre-pandemic volumes.

· Istanbul (-20%) was the busiest European airport, but London Heathrow (-35.7%) jumped to the second position from fourth over the preceding month, followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle (-35.2%), Amsterdam Schiphol (-33.8%) and Madrid Barajas Adolfo Suarez (-27.5%).

· Freight traffic across the European airport network stood at +4.9% in March and at +5.1% for Q1. Freight traffic kept progressing in the EU bloc (+5.7%) but deteriorated across the rest of Europe (-2.6%), a direct result of the war in Ukraine.

· Aircraft movements across the European airport network were at -27.7% in March, up from -42.1% in January and at -31.5% for Q1.

Olivier Jankovic, director general of ACI Europe, said: “The immediate challenge is to manage the sudden surge in traffic, given that the pandemic left airports and ground handlers with hugely depleted resources. This now requires re-staffing in what is a very tight labour market across Europe.

“What’s more, the time required by national security clearance procedures for airport staff, combined with training requirements, make it impossible to adjust overnight. This is putting significant strain on the entire aviation system as we strive to recover.”