European air January passenger traffic comes closest-ever to full COVID-19 recovery -ACI

March 8 (Reuters) - Passenger traffic across the European airport network in January came the closest ever to a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels, the group Airports Council International (ACI) said on Wednesday.

The monthly report showed passenger traffic across the European airport network increased by 69% in January compared with the same month last year, when Omicron-related travel restrictions halted the recovery.

When compared with January 2019 levels, passenger traffic in 2023 stood at -11%, the best monthly performance and thus closest to a full recovery since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACI said.

About "42% of Europe's airports have now recovered their pre-pandemic traffic volumes," said ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec, adding the group expects more airports "to hit the same milestone in the coming months."

"For now, our immediate focus is on getting ready for the peak Summer season," he added.

The EU+ Market - which includes the European Union, the UK, Switzerland and EEA countries - led the growth with passenger traffic growing 82% in January compared with the same month last year. The highest increases were recorded in the United Kingdom (+128%), Ireland (+115%) and Cyprus (+111%).

Compared with pre-pandemic levels, 11 national markets achieved or exceeded a full recovery in January, the report showed, with airports in Portugal and Cyprus ranked first, while Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Germany stood at the bottom.

"This reflects a mix of factors including the impact of the war in Ukraine and the lack of penetration or loss of Low Cost traffic," ACI said, though traffic at airports in Armenia (+70%), Georgia (+49.2%), and to a lesser extent Turkey (+47.9%) benefited from war-related traffic shifts.

Despite passenger volumes decreasing at airports, passenger traffic in Russia remained above its pre-pandemic volumes in January 2023, up 6.6%, with movements shifting to domestic and non-EU+ markets.

Istanbul reclaimed its status as the busiest European airport in January with 5.64 million passengers, ACI said, followed by London-Heathrow (5.49 million), Paris-CDG (4.72 million), Madrid (4.43 million) and Amsterdam-Schiphol (3.9 million).

Reporting by Dina Kartit in Gdansk Editing by Matthew Lewis

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