Aena closed 2021 with 64% of the flights in 2019 but only 43% of the travelers who landed or took off at any of the airports of the national network in the last full year before the pandemic. These are the figures presented yesterday by the semi-public airport manager headed by Maurici Lucena and which show that 120 million passengers passed through these infrastructures during the last year, 9 million more than the estimate made by the company in the middle of the year, when DORA II – Aena’s investment project – was presented until 2026.
These data represent a relevant increase, 57.7%, with respect to those harvested during 2020, a year already affected by the Covid-19 crisis. If merchandise is taken into account, during 2021 998,471 tons were transported through the national airport network, 6.6% less than in 2019.
If a theoretical exercise is carried out to calculate the average number of passengers per flight, a global figure of just 79 travelers for each operation during 2021 is obtained, well below the 116 that are derived from performing the same calculation with the 2019 figures. The greatest difference from this average figure is found in airports such as Malaga Costa del Sol, which are dependent on international tourism.
Domestic traffic on the rise
According to Aena, domestic traffic, that is, the one that originates and is destined for in the national territory, is the one that recovered the best. Specifically, of the total number of passengers registered in 2021, 119.3 million corresponded to commercial passengers, of which 52 million traveled on domestic flights, 39.2% less than in 2019. On the other hand, 67.3 million of passengers did so on international routes, 64.3% less than in the last prepandemic year. This is mainly due to the confinements, perimeter closures and restrictive measures that many countries in the area imposed for months and that put the global air sector in check, for the second time in just a few months.
By airports, that of the capital, Adolfo Surez Madrid-Barajas, registered the highest number of passengers in the network in 2021 with 24.1 million, which represents a decrease of 60.9% compared to 2019 and an increase of 41 % compared to 2020. On the other hand, if the number of flights is taken care of, this drop is 48.9% compared to two years ago up to 217,539.
This is explained, according to sources from the aeronautical sector consulted by the Economist, for several reasons. First, short and medium-haul aircraft, for which traffic recovered faster after the first moments of the pandemic, are smaller and therefore carry fewer passengers in each operation. Second, the occupancy rate was, for months, low in most of the routes, as can be seen in the theoretical figures of average occupancies, which do not reach 80 passengers per flight, although with the improvement of the plans of vaccination and the opening of certain long-haul routes, such as those of the United States, these percentages were improving month by month.
Beyond Barajas, the second airport in volume of passengers transported during 2021 was Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat, with 18.8 million travelers, a decrease of 64.1% compared to 2019 and an increase of 48.2 % compared to 2020, when the pandemic showed its worst face. The situation in El Prat is very similar to that of Barajas. If the number of flights is taken into account, during 2021 163,679 aircraft took off or landed from the Catalan infrastructure, that is, a drop of 52.4% compared to two years before, prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. 19.
The third position in number of passengers is for Palma de Mallorca. The infrastructure of the capital of the Balearic Islands moved 14.4 million passengers last year, 51.2% less than in 2019. That is, the fall in the number of operations was barely 35%, that is to say , 16 points less, until 141,189. All this brings the average number of passengers per flight to 102, well below the 137 travelers before the pandemic.
Behind the number of passengers, according to the data made public yesterday by Aena itself, Malaga-Costa del Sol, with 8.8 million (-55.3% and + 72%), Gran Canaria, with 6.9 million (-48% and + 34.4%); Alicante-Elche, with 5.8 million (-61.2% and + 56.2%); Ibiza, with 4.5 million (-40.5% and + 129.9%), Tenerife South, with 4.6 million (-58.8% and + 35.8%) and Valencia, with 4 million (- 52.2% and + 63.9%). The data thus show the importance of tourist destinations in our country for these infrastructures, since the first places in the list of busiest airports are for this type of location.
In addition, the airports that mainly had non-commercial activity and that recorded a greater number of movements in 2021 were Madrid-Cuatro Vientos, with 60,759 operations (+ 17%), Sabadell, with 51,665 (+ 2%), and Jerez, with 41,260 (-24.3%).
In general, the traffic figures at national airports have been improving month by month, as the health situation cleared up and vaccination progressed both in Spain and in the rest of the surrounding countries. The opening of markets during closed months, as is the case in the United States, gave an unexpected boost to the airlines with almost total fillings of the flights in the first days of return to operations. On the other hand, the emergence of the micron variant on the eve of Christmas drenched part of that recovery and once again put the sector in check despite the fact that, this time, the figures did not resemble those harvested months before.
Airports exceed 120 million passengers and improve forecasts of 111 million
According to the International Council of Airports Europe (ACI), passenger traffic decreased by 20% during the month of December on the forecasts that were handled until then. This caused that, according to ACI calculations, the occupancy levels of flights to and from European airports fell from 66% to 54%. In addition, according to the same source, this situation could be extended to the data collected during the first quarter of 2022 throughout the Old Continent, directly impacting the balance sheets of the airlines this year as well.
On the other hand, the data revealed by Aena for the month of December show a good performance of traffic in Spain. Specifically, during the last month of the year, Aena’s airport network registered a total of 12.7 million passengers, 30.3% less than in the same month of 2019, representing a recovery of 69.7 million % of prepandemic data, and 233.2% more than in 2020. Of these, 5.27 million corresponded to domestic flights, 18.2% less than in December 2019, and 7.38 million passengers traveled in international routes, 37% less.
Regarding the number of aircraft operations in December 2021, it was 141,931 at the airports of the Aena network, 12.9% less than in the same month of 2019.
Load dropped 6.6%
On the side of freight transport by air, in 2021 998,471 tons of cargo were transported throughout the Aena network, 6.6% less compared to 2019, due to the fact that a very important part of the usual cargo has been transferred in commercial passenger aircraft taking advantage of its low passenger occupancy.
The four airports that received the highest merchandise traffic last year were Adolfo Surez Madrid-Barajas, with a total of 523,396 tons (-6.5% compared to 2019); Zaragoza, 194,352 tons, improving the prepandemic data by 6.4%; Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat, with 136,107 (-23%), and Vitoria, with 72,522 tons, which also managed to overcome the barrier established in 2019 by 12.5%. These figures, very different from each other, show the strength of the load despite the conditions of the Covid-19.
But beyond the national data, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) yesterday presented air cargo figures throughout the Old Continent at the end of November. According to the body headed by Willie Walsh, global demand for air cargo grew 3.7% in November compared to the same month in 2019, but was hampered by interruptions in the supply chain.
IATA warns of supply chain pressure leading to cargo damage
Labor shortages, due in part to employees being quarantined, insufficient storage space at some airports, and processing delays, exacerbated by the end-of-year rush, have resulted in the “loss of growth opportunities “for the sector, Walsh himself pointed out this Tuesday.
The former CEO of the IAG Group – the parent company of companies such as Iberia, Vueling or British Airways – called on governments to act quickly to ease the pressure on global supply chains before this permanently affects the shape of the recovery. economy of Covid-19.
By region, North American airlines increased their international air cargo demand by 11.4% in October compared to the same period in 2019. Middle East airlines, for their part, recorded growth of 3.4%, while that the demand of European airlines rose just 0.3%. In addition, Asia-Pacific airlines reported an increase of 5.2%, while Latin American airlines registered the only decrease of all regions, with 13.6% less.
187 million in 2022
With these data from the end of 2021, the thesis of the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC) that considered the traffic estimates made by the airport infrastructure manager “conservative” is confirmed. Thus, of the 111 million passengers it estimated for 2021, the final figure has risen to 120 million.
Looking ahead to 2022, according to the data collected in the DORA II that was presented a few months ago, Aena will move 187.3 million passengers in 1.75 million operations. The figure will increase to 232 million travelers in 2023 and continue to grow until reaching 282.5 million, which, according to their own calculations, will be achieved at the end of the investment period in 2026.
With these figures presented by Aena in September, the recovery in pre-pandemic traffic levels will not come until 2026, while the national competition authority headed by Cani Fernndez reaches this milestone two years earlier, in 2024.
For this reason, these “conservative” traffic estimates made the CNMC decide against the rate hike proposal that Aena intends for the coming years and proposed a rate reduction of 0.44% per annum during the five years of the year. period 2022-2026. It should be remembered that the semi-public company proposed a rise of 0.52% each year from 2022 to 2025 and of 3.29% only in 2026, something that the airlines do not see favorably due to the situation in the sector.
Finally, the Government, through the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, chose the middle path and forced a rate freeze until the end of the DORA II investment period. This gesture was intended, according to the Ministry of Transportation last September, “to help attract new companies and the recovery of the air transportation sector”, the same thesis that the sector handles.
Cheap flights to avoid ‘ghost’ routes
Phantom flights, those that are operated with the sole purpose of not losing the slot of the airports, are giving many headaches to the sector in Europe. Specifically, the CEO of Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, warned in an interview in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine a few days ago that his airline must carry out 18,000 of these almost empty flights to avoid losing the slots, while it has been forced to cancel until 33,000 more flights for the next few months. Asked about this situation in Spain, from the sector they point out that “we are not sure what is happening”, although “numerous commercial efforts” are being made, with minimal ticket prices, to carry out flights that, generally, carry a Very low occupancy rate.
It should be remembered that, for the moment, the European Commission has set the minimum use so as not to lose the slots at 50% for this season. Looking ahead to the summer, which in the air sector go from March 2022 to October, has relaxed to 64%.
The airlines have spent months asking for an even greater relaxation of the Brussels criteria, which, according to their statements, contradict the Fit for 55 measures due to the large amount of emissions that could be avoided if a significant part of the flights were suppressed.