The recovery of air connectivity
around Europe continues to be “uneven and difficult,” despite a strong rebound
in passenger numbers this year.

Airports association ACI Europe said
the return to pre-Covid levels of connectivity was being held back by some
continuing Covid-19 travel restrictions, as well as the impact of the war in
Ukraine and “structural changes” in the industry.

According to ACI’s new report, total air connectivity across European airports
was still 29 percent lower than during 2019 and was currently at a similar
level to 2009, which was the period of the so-called “great recession”
following the financial crisis.

Some countries in Europe are faring
better than others, although Greece is the only market to have fully recovered
to pre-Covid levels of airline connectivity; meanwhile, neighboring Turkey is
only 3 percent down compared with 2019.

Among the larger European nations,
Spain is performing best at 23 per cent down on 2019, followed by the UK (-28
percent), Italy (-32 percent), France (-34 percent) and Germany (-39 percent).

Unsurprisingly, Russia has seen a 62
percent drop in airline connectivity since 2019, following the imposition of
sanctions by the EU and U.K., among others, following the invasion of Ukraine
in February which has included airspace flying bans.

ACI also highlights a continued
deficit for “indirect” and hub airport connectivity (down by 36 and 34 percent
respectively on 2019), which again illustrates how low-cost carriers have fueled
the recovery in passenger numbers through their point-to-point services, with
direct connectivity only down 15 percent.

The report said this structural
shift in the sector towards low-cost carriers “looks set to stay”—these
airlines now account for 40 percent of direct air connectivity, compared with
27 percent before the pandemic. This trend is also boosting small and regional
airports, which have recovered more quickly than larger hubs.

ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec said: “Connectivity performance
varies significantly between airports, national markets and airline business
models. These variations also hint to more lasting—structural—changes in
Europe’s aviation market.

“Covid-19 accelerated the changes in
the market landscape for airports, where competitive pressures are increasing
across the board as we see footloose carriers, which today includes both the
ultra-low-cost carriers and also the low-cost brands of network carriers,
intensively bargain with airports.”

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