Where Global Airports Stand in the Recovery

Schedule Changes

Last week I looked at how US airport capacity has changed during the pandemic, and now it’s time to go global. As a reminder, I took Cirium data and plotted it on Great Circle Mapper. Let’s start with the place where things are not going well right now… Europe.

In Europe, airports are melting down with hours-long security lines, mountains of lost bags, and general travel pain and suffering. So far the airports don’t seem to have any better idea than instituting artificial caps on travel which makes things even worse for the travel experience. Airlines say the airports just simply failed to adequately prepare by staffing up properly. Is that true? It does appear that way.

Top 10 European Airports by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

Traffic is down nearly across the board, and those airports that are suffering the most… are very, very down. This must be a staffing problem, because it certainly can’t be a physical footprint issue.

With the main European airports being pared back, Istanbul has jumped into the top spot with its capacity nearly flat vs 2019. That pushed Heathrow down to second place thanks to a 16 percent drop. Frankfurt had a larger drop that pushed it down to 4th while Paris stayed in third. Germany has been hit particularly hard.

There were some notable jumps at the bottom of the list. Gatwick and Palma de Mallorca each moved up 3 spots, cracking the top 10. But they moved for different reasons. Mallorca grew as leisure travel boomed. Gatwick being more leisure-focused had a similar rationale, but it still saw a large drop overall, just not as large as others.

Let’s look at the biggest losers.

Top 5 Biggest Losers in Europe by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

Prague is number 1 with a more than 40 percent cut. What’s that all about? Austrian Smartwings is the largest airline in the market with nearly a quarter of the seats, and it is down more than 40 percent. Meanwhile, Czech basically stopped operating, down more than 90 percent.

In Stuttgart, Eurowings was more than a third of the traffic, but it dropped dramatically. Further, easyJet stopped flying there. In next place, there’s no surprise with Moscow falling off the map. Interestingly, it was also a Russian city that had the largest growth… Sochi. That was a winner because all that international traffic disappeared and everyone had to look domestically to places like Sochi for vacation.

Helsinki is a victim of the sanctions against Russia since overflight becomes a problem. But the disappearance of Norwegian in the country didn’t help either.

Let’s head south into Africa.

Top 10 African Airports by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

South Africa has been fairly restrictive during the pandemic, but a bigger problem is the sickness of its airline industry. South African is a shell of its former self and its subsidiary Mango isn’t flying. Meanwhile, Comair along with it subisidary Kulula has failed. It’s a vacuum right now.

Cairo has surged into the top spot thanks to nearly 10 percent growth from Egyptair, and Nigeria has really blown up with Abuja growing like mad. Still, the tenth largest market in Africa is not a very big market.

Next up, we head to the Middle East.

Top 10 Middle Eastern Airports by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Dubai is the largest airport in the region, but it is down a lot. Emirates is off 30 percent while smaller flydubai is up 30 percent. The issue for Emirates as a global carrier is that some of its locations have bigger restrictions in place for international travel.

Doha faces similar issues, but it has a national carrier that is more aggressive and less focused on actual demand than Emirates. For that reason, it is off by a lower percentage. Saudi Arabia does not have these issues. Saudia is focusing more on Jeddah than other places, but low cost operators like flyadeal are filling in quickly elsewhere now that the country has opened up for tourism for the first time. This is what happens when there’s a national mandate to become a center for air travel. We’ve seen this before.

Top 10 South/Southeast Asian Airports by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

If we head further east, that’s where things get really interesting. In South/Southeast Asia, it’s a real mixed bag. The number one airport in 2019 doesn’t even show on the map. Falling down to 27th place is Hong Kong. I doubt it will ever fully recover.

Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur also fell, though not to the same extent as Hong Kong. Meanwhile, India, Vietnam, and Jakarta are booming, or at least not dropping that much. India now has the number one and number three airports.

If we head a little north, it gets very strange in East Asia.

Top 10 East Asian Airports by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

You might think that Chinese airports would fall off the map completely thanks to the country’s effective walling-off from the rest of the world. That is what happened in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. But you can’t forget that there are a billion people in China, and they are traveling domestically a lot. That’s why some of these cities saw limited cuts. They’re focused on domestic travel.

I do want to point out Chengdu/Tianfu, a brand new airport which has already become 10th largest in the region. What’s so amazing about this is that the old Chengdu airport remains open and operating. Together, they have more than 3.7 million seats in July 2022. In 2019, that was only 2.8 million.

It’s time to go south to something far more uniform.

Top 10 Oceania Airports by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

Welcome to Oceania, where the story is the same throughout. Traffic is down the most in international airports, but airports with more of a domestic focus saw less pain. There’s not much more to say about that, so let’s skip over to Latin America.

Top 10 Latin American Airports by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

Mexico did not shut down during the pandemic at all, and it has been growing. Mexico City… not so much. The airport was at capacity, and now thanks to safety concerns, airlines are being forced to cut back more. But look at Guadalajara and oh my, Cancun. They are booming.

Down in South America, you can see that the west coast countries were a lot more conservative than those elsewhere.

And lastly, let’s go to Canada.

Top 10 Canadian Airports by Scheduled Seats – July 2022

Map via Great Circle Mapper,
First line is July 2022 rank followed by (July 2019 rank)
Last line is percent change in seats July 2022 vs July 2019

The only real movement here is in Ottawa, the seat of government, where capacity has plunged more than the rest. The closest we have to a success story here is Kelowna which is down less than 4 percent. Much of this is demand-related, but Canada, like Europe, is facing severe issues with operational integrity.

That’s it for our trip around the world. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I can pull more data to assist.

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28 comments on “Where Global Airports Stand in the Recovery

  1. Cranky,

    In Europe with the growth of high-speed rail, I wonder if air travel numbers are being effected. It’s surprising to see such strong growth in China’s domestic air travel as their own high-speed rail network rapidly expands.

    FYI – A YouTube channel “The B 1 M” discusses this & other largescale construction projects such as the enlargement at DEN & the reconstruction of LGA.

    Thought you & others would be interested in that.

  2. Is Sochi just domestic Russian tourism? Or are they still trying to make it an international “hub” with short range Russian jets?

    1. grichard – It’s domestic. Of all the seats this July, 94 percent are within Russia. Another 2 percent are to former Soviet republics. The only notable international service is 3 percent of seats going to Istanbul.

  3. These have been particularly interesting analyses, thanks so much!

    Couple of random questions:

    Is it a surprise that NRT is not among the top 10 East Asian airports or is that just my US-centric observation since we didn’t even know HND existed (slight exaggeration) until relatively recently?

    To a lesser extent, I was also surprised to not see Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro among the top 10 Latin American airports. I’m thinking these overall markets are top 10 but their air traffic is bifurcated between two airports. Curious if that’s actually the case though.

    1. Bill – Narita is way down at #31! The issue is that Narita does a lot more international, and Japan has mostly been closed off. To put it in perspective, #30 is actually Sapporo. Sapporo is bigger than Narita right now because it has more domestic. Haneda is the main domestic airport in Tokyo. But even looking at 2019, Narita was #14 just behind Chongqing.

      As for Buenos Aires, the airport split makes a difference. AEP is #13 and Ezeiza is #21. For Rio, Santos Dumont is #14 and Galeao is #29. If we combined all airports into metro areas, then the top 10 would look like

      1. A number of countries including the US (the largest longhaul destination from Japan) gained access to new Haneda routes during the pandemic so there will not be near as much capacity to Narita even when Japan is fully reopened.

        1. Is Delta the leading US carrier to Japan now since they have all their flights to Japan now going to Haneda instead of splitting between Narita and Haneda?

          1. I don’t think any airline is operating what will be their fully allocated number of routes in the case of Japan markets where there is unrestricted market entry or exit or their pre-covid schedules, whichever may be the case depending on the airport.
            Delta probably will not be the largest airline between the US and Japan but it will be the largest foreign carrier at Haneda based on Haneda allocations.

      2. Narita has always had fewer passengers than HND, about half the passenger numbers each year for at least 2000-2018. Then usually KIX, ITM, and CTS for the next few spots.

  4. CF – I’d be interested to see the Irish airports. I know SNN has fallen off the map, BFS/BHD probably similarly, but DUB appears to be getting back on stride. Thanks

    1. Sure, so looking at Ireland/Northern Ireland July 2022 vs July 2019 seats in descending order of number of seats in 2022…
      Dublin -10.1% Belfast Intl -16.7% Cork -9.9% Belfast/City -19.4% Shannon -10.8% Knock +3.7% Kerry +27.9% Derry -11.5% Donegal +29%

  5. Regarding PRG – are you sure that Austrian (OS) has a quarter of the seats or is it rather QS (Smartwings/TravelService)?

      1. All good, it happens even to the best ;-)
        Other than that, I really enjoyed your analysis and it got me really motivated to look at the data I have available (OAG in my case) to check – as I was wondering about a few airports that were also mentioned by others, such as ICN not in the top 10 – but came up with nearly identical figures.

  6. This is absolutely great data, CF.
    While this is a snapshot in time, it does provide some significant insights into how air travel is evolving as covid is seen as endemic and as the world deals with what could be significant realignment politically in part due to the Russia-Ukraine war which will likely be the most significant factor in shaping global aviation. China will reopen but will probably not generate anywhere near as much international traffic as it once did but the change in energy prices and the link to European economies, esp. the further east one goes in Europe, will hurt European economies, esp. Germany which has been the financial driver for Europe.
    Back home, now that the big 3 US airlines have all reported, it appears that the ability to manage costs including labor and fuel will be the biggest issue. The US domestic market is strong – probably proportionately more so than most of the rest of the world. Aviation worldwide faces two completely different sides of the coin – redhead demand and inflationary costs or weak demand and still high costs.
    Governments handed out tons of money to their airlines during covid and don’t have much left to give but aviation’s recovery is still far from complete. The maps above could look very different a year from now.

  7. Some thoughts:
    1. Surprised at the lack of ICN
    2. What happened to Czech Airlines?
    3. What’s holding back SIN’s recovery? They’re open and SQ seems to be operating lots of flights.

    1. My thought on SIN – it’s hampered by all the border closures in the region. Lots of people include Singapore into other trips to Asia and those options don’t exist currently, and Singapore isn’t a big enough draw on its own.

      1. Good point on SIN being a major transit hub, much like NRT & HKG are (were?). That definitely seems to be the dominant theme here, for obvious reasons… International airports that were heavily used as hubs to connect pax to destinations in other countries are suffering, while international airports with more of a domestic focus are doing a little better.

        During “normal” (pre-pandemic) times, I wonder how many of SQ’s pax itineraries that touched SIN actually had SIN as an origin or destination, as opposed to just using it as a connecting hub.

    2. Oh good call, definitely surprised ICN not on the list especially since Seoul doesn’t have multiple airports.

      1. Seoul does have two airports. ICN is the newer one and is the main airport, but Gimpo still operates and serves domestic and short haul international flights. If international demand for Korea is low, that could explain ICN falling off the list, with domestic traffic split over to GMP.

    3. Angetenar – 1) ICN is 25th, down 69% vs 2019. Interestingly, Gimpo is 29th and is actually UP 6.6% vs 2019. I assume that’s because with borders closed, Koreans began traveling more domestically, and that’s GMP’s specialty.

      2) Czech was bought by Travel Service/Smartwings and has basically died on the vine. It shed its widebody and now has just one or two narrowbodies.

  8. I’m curious as to why HKG is in SE Asia but SZX is in North Asia. They are literally right next to each other.

    1. In 2019 a *lot* of SE Asia traffic (SIN KUL. SGN) transited through HKG. For all intents, it was in SE Asia. Now its just another part of China.

    2. Sal – Hong Kong is not part of China in the system, so I drew the line separately. I wasn’t about to break up China into regions.

  9. I wonder how Caracas (CCS) did during this time. Not only have they more or less closed the borders for tourists (you need an invitation), they also closed the border with Colombia – now only open by foot, not by plane ánd they started only allowing planes from Mexico, Turkey, Panama, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. This has later been expanded to Russia and Spain and in December limited flights to Chile, Peru, Argentina, Cuba and Ecuador.

    So their airport-in-ruins was cut off even more + Covid. I’m guessing under 1 million international travelers.

    1. Jorg – Caracas barely even registers these days. In July 2022 it had 134,716 seats scheduled compared to 149,453 in July 2019, a drop of only 9.9%. Of those 134,716 seats, 64,190 were international with Copa leading the way with 14,736. But the problem is that CCS had shrunk long before the pandemic. Go back to July 2012 and it had nearly half a million seats.

      1. Yeah, CCS isn’t what it used to be. Surprising that Covid didn’t have that much influence on the number of passengers. At the other hand: even before Covid, nobody would travel there for leasure.

        Thank you for the numbers!

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