The UK’s 3 Busiest Airports Are Europe’s Worst Affected By COVID

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has analyzed the latest Eurocontrol statistics on aviation and has found that three of the UK’s airports are the worst affected in Europe as a result of COVID. BALPA cites ongoing restrictions as the catalyst for this impact, and warns that more job losses could still be to come.

Gatwick Airport easyJet
The UK’s airports have suffered most acutely during the downturn. Photo: Gatwick Airport

UK’s airports hardest hit

While some parts of the world have started to see travel returning to some sort of normal, the situation in the UK is still very difficult. The rest of Europe has begun to stimulate some travel demand thanks to the Green Pass. But in the UK, there are still strict and very confusing restrictions on who can travel where, not to mention incredibly expensive testing requirements.

That’s not to say Europe is not suffering. Across the continent, air traffic is down more than 30%, with international hubs tending to bear the worst of the downturn. However, there is a stark trend that has been identified by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) today, based on data from Eurocontrol, showing that UK airports are being more affected than most.

Of all the airports in Europe, Gatwick tops the list for the biggest slump in travel. In the week of August 5th – 11th, flights from the south London airport were down 76% compared to the same time period last year, putting it leagues ahead of other airports in terms of the level of downturn.

Level pegging for the silver medal were the key hubs of Manchester and Heathrow. Both saw 59% fewer flights in the second August week compared to 2019. This level of flight reduction was also seen at Helsinki, while Tel Aviv rounded out the top five with traffic down 58%.

Gatwick Airport easyJet
Traffic at LGW Is down 76% year-on-year. Photo: Gatwick Airport

BALPA Acting General Secretary Martin Chalk commented on the findings, saying,

“It is devasting to watch Government restrictions destroy the once world leading UK aviation industry. These dire figures show it is not the virus that’s killing the sector, but the artificial, over cautious Government restrictions on international travel. 

“The Government has handed our aviation industry the gold, silver and bronze medal for worst affected airports in Europe: a shameful and deeply damaging prize. The UK is now clearly lagging behind our European competitors.

“We need the Government to recognize the damaging impact its restrictions continue to have on UK aviation and for them to support the only industry still in lockdown by providing a sector specific extension to furlough. 

“If we don’t see these measures in place we could see more job losses imminently and UK aviation will fall even further behind its competitors.”

BALPA is calling on the UK government to expand the green list faster, and to actively work to restore passenger confidence in travel. It also notes that it is time for the government to announce financial support for the travel industry, including an extension of the furlough scheme.

The situation elsewhere in Europe

In other European countries, the recovery has begun in earnest. Although flight numbers remain down around 30% compared to 2019, some European airports have added back significant capacity in the first weeks of August.

Leading the recovery is Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport, which saw an average of 649 flights per day in the week of August 5th. This was down just 6% from 2019 figures. Also recovering well is Athens, with traffic down just 15%, and Palma de Mallorca, down 18% on 2019.

The UK’s 3 Busiest Airports Are Europe’s Worst Affected By COVID
Source: Eurocontrol

In terms of airlines, Scottish regional carrier Loganair has bounced back impressively. On August 11th, the airline actually flew 5% more capacity than it did on the same day in 2019.

In the short-haul market, Wizz and Pegasus have recovered the most, operating 7% and 8% fewer flights on Wednesday 11th August than in 2019, respectively. Ryanair and Turkish Airlines have made inroads, too, both flying 15% less capacity than pre-pandemic. Still struggling, however, are many full-service carriers, including British Airways (-70%), El Al (-68%), Finnair (-67%), and Aer Lingus (-66%).

The UK’s 3 Busiest Airports Are Europe’s Worst Affected By COVID
Traffic peaked in July but has started to decline since. Photo: Eurocontrol

Eurocontrol has noted that, although flights have been ticking up consistently since May, the network reached a peak on July 30th of 25,921 flights. Since then, it has gradually been decreasing – a trend that is set to continue as the summer holidays draw to a close.