Airport trade body ACI Europe’s new report that passenger traffic growth at European airports slowed in the first half of 2019 to 4.3%—while freight traffic dropped by 3.5%—indicates economic troubles, aircraft groundings, flight delays and air traffic management (ATM) disruptions are taking their toll.

The 4.3% passenger traffic increase compares with 6.7% growth in the first half of 2018 while the drop in freight traffic reverses a 3.3% gain in the year-ago period.

ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec termed the passenger traffic growth as “quite resilient” given the economic, geopolitical and industry-specific challenges in the region.

“Slowing economic growth in Europe, trade wars and Brexit are not helping—and neither are rising fuel bills, ATM disruptions, airline consolidation and aircraft grounding and delivery delays,” Jankovec said. “Aircraft movements have been continuously slowing down—from +6.2% last December to just +1.6% in June. This shows just how risk averse airlines have become in terms of capacity deployment and network development.”

Freight traffic showed its worst monthly performance in more than seven years, with a drop of 7.1% in June. “The slump in freight traffic is where it really bites at the moment, and it is not getting any better,” Jankovec said. “This does not bode well for the months ahead, especially as passenger traffic usually does not remain totally isolated from trends in freight traffic.” 

The region’s airports showed differing performance, with airports in the European Union (EU) reporting growth of 4.7% in the first six months of 2019, helped by double-digit growth in Austria, Croatia and Estonia and above-EU-average growth in Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

Traffic declined in Bulgaria and Sweden and was flat in Denmark, while Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the UK underperformed the EU average.

Outside the EU, passenger traffic grew 2.9% in the first half, with the recession in Turkey and the March bankruptcy of Iceland’s WOW Air impacting numbers in those countries, although growth returned to Turkey in June, ACI Europe said.

Among the top five European airports, Paris Charles de Gaulle showed the strongest growth in passenger traffic, with a 7.2% increase while Frankfurt grew 3%. London Heathrow posted just 1.7% growth and Amsterdam-Schiphol was up only 1.4%, both related to capacity constraints. Passenger traffic at Istanbul’s airports (IST and ISL) declined 2%.

Many larger regional airports achieved double-digit passenger traffic growth in the first half, including Seville (Spain) with 21.4% growth, Krakow (Poland) up 19.3% and Nantes (France) up 18.3%.

But smaller regional airports “significantly underperformed,” ACI-Europe said, with passenger traffic increasing just 1%.

Helen Massy-Beresford,