The Gateway to Recovery: Analysing the Performance of Europe’s Leading Airports in 2023

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European Airports Post-Pandemic: Overcoming New Challenges

While the world is still recovering from the pandemic unprecedented outcome, seeing a busy airport is satisfying. Steady passenger flow and increased flight traffic prove a convincing improvement in the aviation industry's health. However, not every indicator had shown growth, and only some have reached pre-pandemic levels. Let's break through the 2023 performance of 5 leading airports in Europe and see how successful they were with their recovery measures.

The Role of Airports in Aviation Recovery

The efficiency and convenience of air transportation are indubitable and significant for the sustainable functioning of many industries. Airports, being hubs for flight traffic and significant local employment providers, serve as irreplaceable participants in the aviation network. By monitoring their daily operation, we can track significant numbers and gather statistics to estimate their contribution to the global economic recovery.

The pandemic has unhinged and interrupted many aspects of our daily lives, and strict restrictions on travel have led to the airports being forced to shut down on most operations. With reduced traffic and number of flights, European airports were left with revenue hardly enough to function. While cargo transportation was affected in a different way than passenger traffic, the single kind of activity was truly not sufficient to run the capacity at the 2019 levels.

With the gradual relaxation of quarantine measures in 2021, we were still observing only partial renewal of the aviation industry, as safety measures still in place were contributing to the relatively slow increase of passenger traffic. However, for the next two years, the industry showed steady development and improvement, with 2023 being almost as good as 2019.

Performance Overview of Key European Airports in 2023

For the 5 busiest and largest airports in Europe the year 2023 was almost as good, as 2019, though differently. Here the key performance numbers for 2023:

*The data for iGA Istanbul operations in the 2019 can’t be reached as the airport was put into operation that same year.

As numbers demonstrate, London Heathrow was the closest to its pre-pandemic operational levels, while iGa Istanbul was the busiest one during 2023. Overall, the 5 main air hubs have shown strong and steady growth, and see, to be on their way to full recovery.

Navigating Through Challenges: Operational Insights

The recovery measures taken by 5 biggest European airports were almost similar as they have faced the same challenge. The main adjustments included:

  • Stringent health safety protocols were implemented to maintain proper distance in the usually busy areas. Almost every transportation facility still has distancing marks and enhanced cleaning procedures to ensure a safe experience for passengers. Airports adjusted people flow according to their state health regulations and provided the required conditions to properly operate during the pandemic.

  • Digital solutions to ensure a contactless experience. Self-service check-ins were provided to minimise physical contact while boarding, as well as biometric identity verification, an automated baggage drop process, and mobile boarding passes.

  • Each airport ensured close collaboration with public health organisations, governments, airlines, and industry leaders to create and bring to life the most efficient practices to enhance overall performance.

But why does European aviation still struggle to reach pre-pandemic levels? Obviously, some new challenges contributed to the speed of improvement. The most significant of them are:

  • Two ongoing military conflicts called for changes in routs and load distribution. Some Eastern-European airports increased their traffic significantly due to Ukraine not being an open flight zone since 2022.

  • Strikes of airport workers in France led to interrupted operations and flight cancellations. To improve the situation for the passengers, legal measures were implemented at the end of 2023. According to the new law, strikers are required to inform the employer 48 hours before the protests start. This might help airports manage coming shortage of employees and adopt temporary schedules to minimise the impact for passengers.

  • Extreme weather conditions hindered flight traffic as well, leading to flight delays and cancellations. For passengers experiencing disruptions, learning about your rights to flight delay compensation can offer some relief during these challenging times.

With all the challenges mentioned above, the European aviation industry still managed to reach 92% of the pre-pandemic operational levels, which is quite impressive.

How Will the Recovery Measures Affect Stakeholders?

Changes in operation will surely influence the experience of everyone involved. While the pandemic restrictions are almost non-existent now, some adjustments that were made seem to be here to stay. Passengers may expect:

  • Some reduction in the number of local flights available due to remote working and video conferencing making them less popular.

  • With airports still below the 2019 level of operation, service improvement to attract and retain customers is to be expected.

  • Costs of travelling will adjust to the new reality with the changed directions and purposes of post-COVID flights.

The improved dynamics and traffic the busiest European airports saw in 2023, will likely affect airline operators positively. While they need to undergo certain alterations, with the growing demand for leisure flights and low-cost travelling it seems the challenge won't be impossible to maintain.

Sustainable Growth and Future Challenges

The world has experienced great turmoil since 2019, and while adapting to the new reality, the question remains: what to expect? The steady and constant growth of the European aviation industry, which the five biggest airports efficiently contribute to, provides a strong hope for quick and working solutions to break through future challenges.


With all the confusion of recent years, European aviation has managed to almost reach the pre-pandemic levels of operation. However, it's not the same for both the industry and passengers. At Skycop, we monitor the situation closely to provide efficient and timely protection of the passengers' rights and better the experience. Remain informed with Skycop analytics to seamlessly navigate the evolving landscape of air travel!

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