Punctuality of Europe air arrivals hit by strikes and weather

The punctuality of arrivals across the European air network fell more than seven percentage points on 2019 last year to 71% and was slightly below the 2022 level.

That is according to data from European air traffic navigation safety body Eurocontrol, which reported departures punctuality was lower at 65%, 7.5 percentage points down on 2019.

Air traffic control (ATC) delays were a major reason. Yet UK ATC was responsible for just 4% of the delays in 2023. By contrast, France accounted for 37% and Germany 26%, with “capacity/staffing the main underlying issue”.

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Eurocontrol noted ATC strikes in France during the first half of the year and an increase in extreme weather events during the summer “had a significant impact”.

There were 43 days in the year on which more than 50% of delays were due to the weather, compared to 18 in 2022 and just 11 in 2019, with bad weather accounting for 29% of all air traffic delays in 2023.

Delays due to strikes were four times higher than the previous year and 2.6 times higher than in 2019, with strikes on 54 days accounting for more than 50% of delays, almost all in France.

The closure of Ukraine airspace since February 2022 had led to diverted flights “overloading” airspace to the west of the country and “higher en-route delays”. The war waged by Israel in Gaza from October 2023 also “affected various flows unable to overfly the zone”.

July saw the most en-route delays, followed by June and August, with a substantial proportion of these due to bad weather.

Eurocontrol noted Gatwick and Lisbon airports saw “frequent capacity regulations”. In the case of Gatwick, this was due to a shortage of air traffic controllers.

Europe’s air traffic hit 92% of the 2019 level in May and June, 93% from July to September and 95% in October before settling back at 92% as “some operators started to cut capacity”.

The UK saw an average 5,290 flights a day during the year, up 13% on 2022 but 10% down on 2019. However, that was half the shortfall in Germany where traffic remained 20% down on 2019 and domestic air traffic down by more than one third.

Spain was Europe’s busiest aviation market after the UK, with more than 4,600 flights a day, on a par with 2019.

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