Terrorism, Brexit and ongoing instability around its borders made 2016 a challenging year for Europe, though air transport demand in the region was broadly unaffected.
Airport Council International (ACI) counted a record two billion passengers through Europe’s airports last year – 5.1% more than in 2015.
This is broadly in line with IATA’s calculation of 4.6% growth for the European market last year, though the headline figures disguise huge regional swings.
Turkish airports, for instance, suffered a 6.6% fall in traffic as nervous tourists shied away from a country hit by repeated terror attacks and an attempted coup.
Safer destinations within the European Union benefited from this, as holidaymakers flocked to the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. Alicante, Malaga, Faro and Porto airports all recorded growth in excess of 15%.
This more than compensated for a small slump at non-EU airports, and helped make the intra-European market the second-fastest growing in the world last year after the domestic United States market.
ACI put overall growth down to rising consumer spending, falling unemployment, low oil prices and extra capacity.
More aircraft are good news for passengers and the aftermarket, which must keep them supported with spare parts and maintenance, though not necessarily for airlines.
Available seats grew 4.6% in 2016, according to IATA, and Olivier Jankovec, director of ACI Europe, identifies excess capacity as a risk for 2017, alongside terrorism and the price of oil, which is forecast to rise by a third this year.
He also identifies “a set of emerging mega-trends which are now challenging globalisation and free trade – and which could fundamentally alter airports’ long-term business prospects”.
For the time being, however, Europe’s airports are riding a wave of consumer confidence.