European air connectivity lags amid rising traffic volumes

Lower air connectivity hampers wider competitiveness and cohesion — and points to new aviation reality according to ACI Europe

ACI EUROPE has published its 2024 Airport Industry Connectivity Report1 on July 2, 2024, providing the definitive measure of air connectivity across Europe. This report, unveiled just ahead of the 34th ACI EUROPE Annual Congress & General Assembly, utilises the connectivity indexes created by SEO Amsterdam Economics, offering the most comprehensive tool for assessing and ranking airport connectivity.

The 2024 findings indicate that total air connectivity (both direct and indirect) in Europe remains 14% below pre-pandemic levels from 2019. This marks a slight improvement from last year’s performance (2023 at -16%) but contrasts sharply with passenger volumes, which are nearing full recovery. As a result, consumers and communities are facing fewer and more expensive travel options2.

The report also makes plain to see how geopolitical tensions and structural changes in the aviation market are resulting in altered connectivity patterns as well as significant performance variations amongst both national and individual airport markets.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE said: “If anything, this year’s report shows that air connectivity should not be taken for granted. This is particularly relevant at a time when Europe is resetting its strategic direction for the next 5 years with a renewed focus on competitiveness and cohesion. As every 10% increase in direct air connectivity yields a 0.5% increase in GDP per capita, there is no doubt air connectivity is an essential part of competitiveness — be it at local, national or European level ­— and a key enabler of cohesion.”

He added: “This means our policy makers must address the several factors that will further shape Europe’s air connectivity, including climate action, technological progress and airline consolidation. Looking at climate action in particular, we have no choice but to progress towards decarbonising aviation while at the same time safeguarding the socio-economic benefits of air connectivity. This will require further flexibility and supportive measures in implementing the EU Fit for 55 framework.”

Non-EU+ market underperforming & national market gaps

While total air connectivity in the EU+ markets3 stands at -13% when compared to pre-pandemic (2019) levels, geopolitical tensions have driven the non-EU+ market4 to significantly underperform at -20%.

This mainly results from Ukrainian airports having lost all air connectivity whilst those in Russia (-43%) and Belarus (-87%) reporting dramatic drops in their total air connectivity. Israel (-42%) has also suffered major losses in that respect due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Besides geopolitics, structural changes in the aviation market — in particular the prominence of leisure & Visiting Friends & Relatives (VFR) demand and the expansion of Ultra Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) are also shaping the performance of national markets:

  • Within the EU+ market, only 3 countries have fully recovered and exceeded their pre-pandemic (2019) total air connectivity levels: Greece (+22%), Iceland (+7%) and Portugal (+4%). Conversely, Finland (-37%), Sweden (-31%), Slovenia (-29%) along with the Czech Republic and Austria (both at -28%) remain far behind.

Amongst the largest EU+ markets, the best performance comes from heavily tourism-reliant Spain (-2%), followed by the UK (‑12%), France (-15%) and Germany (-24%).

  • In the non-EU+ market, the best performances in total air connectivity are reported by Albania (+55%), Uzbekistan (+29%) and Türkiye (+24%).

Istanbul, Amsterdam-Schiphol and London Heathrow top direct connectivity ranking 

Istanbul (+9% since 2019) remains on top of the European ranking for direct connectivity, having moved up from the 5th position pre‑pandemic (2019). The Turkish hub enjoys the best direct connectivity to the Middle East and second best to Asia-Pacific, with the latter having increased by a stunning +23% compared to last year.

Amsterdam-Schiphol (-6%) comes second, largely thanks to its excellent connectivity within Europe – although compared to last year, it has not seen its direct connectivity to Asia-Pacific (-1%) making gains and has also experienced a significant decrease in its direct connectivity to Latin America (-28%).

London-Heathrow (-2%) is now almost at the same level as Amsterdam-Schiphol and has nearly fully recovered its direct connectivity levels compared to pre-pandemic (2019). It remains unrivalled for its direct connectivity to North America, which is nearly twice that of its next competitor (Paris-CDG).

Amongst the top 20 airports for direct connectivity and apart from Istanbul, only the following ones have recovered or exceeded their pre‑pandemic (2019) levels: Athens (+17%), Palma de Mallorca (+8%), Dublin (+3%), Istanbul-Sabiha Gökçen (+3%), Lisbon (+3%) and Rome-Fiumicino (0%).

This once again reflects the prominence of leisure & VFR demand along with LCCs’ expansion. While the direct connectivity offered by LCCs from European airports has increased by +18% since 2019, the direct connectivity offered by Full-Service Carriers (FSCs) has shrunk by ‑16%.

Fast and furious: Connectivity gains amongst large, medium and small airports

When compared to pre-pandemic (2019) levels, the following airports posted the highest increases in direct connectivity:

  • Large airports (25 to 10 million passengers per annum): Bergamo (+38%), Sochi (+35%), Tenerife-South (+26%), Málaga (+15%) and Naples (+15%).
  • Medium airports (10 to 1 million passengers per annum): Tirana (+186%), Trapani (+143%), Zadar (+108%), Samarkand (+103%) and Beauvais (+78%).
  • Small airports (Less than 1 million passengers per annum): Pardubice (+350%), Karlovy Vary (+300%), Perugia (+240%) and Castellón (+178%).

Despite the impressive gains from some, small airports have significantly underperformed when it comes to recovering their direct connectivity compared to the other segments of the airport industry. This is down to airlines generally favouring larger markets, with FSCs having reduced their direct connectivity from small airports by -32% and LCCs by -6% when compared to pre-pandemic (2019) levels.

Frankfurt tops global hub ranking

Frankfurt remains in the top position globally for hub connectivity despite posting -23% below its pre-pandemic (2019) level. The German hub is followed by Dallas Fort Worth (-4%) and Istanbul, which has seen its hub connectivity expanding by +37% since 2019.

Overall, hub connectivity across Europe remains -18% below its pre‑pandemic (2019) level this year, and thus keeps significantly underperforming against direct connectivity (-8%). Although the gap has narrowed somewhat over the past 3 years, it remains significant — pointing to structural hub shrinkage and reflecting changed connectivity patterns.

ADJUSTED CONNECTIVITY: THE POWER CITY ACCESS INDEX

This year for the first time, the report includes a new index shedding light on connectivity from a more qualitative point of view. The Power City Access index combines airport connectivity with its linkages to the service sector and the economic importance of the destinations.

London-Heathrow comes in pole position in the Power City Index, followed by Paris-CDG and Amsterdam-Schiphol.

The Power City Access index also identifies smaller airports that manage to maximise their network from a quality point of view to the benefit of the local communities they serve. The ranking of outperformers exceeding their direct connectivity rank by up to 500 points with their Power City Access position is topped by Stockholm VästeråsLeónLinzŁódź and Stockholm Skavsta airports.

Comment

Commenting on this, Karen Dee, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, the trade body for UK airports, said: “While the figures are not back to where they were, the UK has an opportunity to secure more inward investment, open new trading markets, create jobs and encourage tourists and leisure travellers.

“If the next government is serious about growing the economy, it must ensure the UK’s approach to aviation allows our global connectivity to grow stably, sustainably and affordably.

“Providing certainty and an efficient, warm welcome for investors, businesses and visitors will demonstrate to the world that the UK is open for business, and put us at the heart of the global aviation network.”

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ACI EUROPE Airport Industry Connectivity Report 2024

2 Air fares for intra-European travel in July 2024 (3 months advanced purchase) are up by +37% compared to 2019 (source: RDC)

3 EU, EEA, Switzerland and the UK

4 Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Türkiye, Ukraine and Uzbekistan

Related airports

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), Athens International Airport (ATH), Dallas Fort Worth Airport (DFW), Dublin Airport (DUB), Frankfurt Airport (FRA), iGA Istanbul Airport (IST), Leonardo da Vinci–Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO), Lisbon Airport (LIS), London Heathrow Airport (LHR), Palma de Mallorca Airport (PMI), Samarkand International Airport (SKD), Tirana International Airport (TIA), Umbria Perugia International Airport (PEG)

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