Optimistic Trends Proving UK Airports On The Path To Recovery

Path to recovery for UK Airports

The outlook for UK airports became brighter this summer due to the easing of restrictions and a simplified traffic light system. Optimistic trends below show a sharp increase in passenger traffic from July onwards, proving UK airports are on the path to recovery.

Is this the recovery we’ve been waiting for?

Take a look at the graphs below, visualised by AiQ Consulting to see what you think. We used the recent Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) airport data covering 51 UK airports showing a clear vision of passenger, ATM and cargo activity over the summer months of 2021.

The most significant growth in passenger traffic

Q3 2021 Passenger traffic for UK airportsThe above graph clearly shows passenger traffic accelerating in Q3 from July to September, climbing steeply to a total of 13,988,141 passengers in September. A recovery of 30% pre-pandemic levels in Q3.

This is the greatest passenger growth since February 2020 when the worldwide pandemic outbreak came to light.

Whist this trend line is very positive, passenger levels remain significantly impacted by the pandemic by 70% compared to Q3 in 2019. Nevertheless, it’s a step closer to a full recovery.

Let’s take a closer look

Q£ 2021 passenger traffic in detail

EU and other international passengers contribute greatly to the overall increase in passenger activity at UK airports with a sharp rise in demand from July to September. This is due to the easing of travel restrictions, including the green list extension and reduction of red list countries.

ATMs follow a similar increase in Q3

Q3 2021 ATM activity UK airportsThe total Air Traffic Movement (ATM) graph above shows activity levels in Q3 2021 were 244,837, showing a healthy incline month on month. However, it is a modest gain compared to 2019 levels pre-pandemic, down 63% compared in Q3 in 2019 but an improvement since Q2. See Q2 data graphs here.

Cargo activity fluctuates in Q3

Cargo traffic for UK Airports in Q3 2021

The plotted line graph of cargo activity inclusive of freight and mail shows a minor deterioration of growth in July but gained traction into August with demand stabilising in September. Levels of activity in Q3 were down 17% compared to the same period in 2019.

Globally, it was a strong air cargo performance in quarter 3 according to IATA Air Cargo market analysis with volume stabilizing at an elevated level in September. Industry-wide cargo tonne grew 9.1% compared to September 2019. Demand is thought to have remained steady due to trade and manufacturing activity impacted by shipping supply chain issues. Looking ahead we expect to see strong demand for air transport due to its speed in Q4 during the peak cargo season.

The excitement in the air for UK Airports

The graphs above show strong indications of a more positive future for UK airports. Recovery from the COVID pandemic is beginning to gain ground. What do the UK airports say?

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow Airport CEO is quietly optimistic but realistic –

“We are on the cusp of a recovery which will unleash pent-up demand, create new quality jobs and see Britain’s trade roar back to life – but it risks a hard landing unless secured for the long-haul.” Read more

Karen Smart, MD of Manchester airport is excited for the future with surged bookings on the back of the simplified traffic light system

‘After changes to the Government’s travel restrictions were announced last week, we are feeling a sense of excitement about our airports starting to return to how we knew them before the pandemic.’ Read More

Steve Griffiths, MD of London Stansted Airport report that Stansted was the 2nd busiest airport in the UK across the summer –

‘This put us in a relatively good place to build on this small but significant step and following the latest changes to the Government’s travel restrictions announced last month, we are feeling a new sense of excitement and anticipation as we continue the journey back to how we remember the airport prior to the pandemic.’ Read more

On Monday 8th November, there was a moment of celebration when British Airways and Virgin Atlantic planes took off from Heathrow Airport simultaneously, flying to the US. Now the US has finally opened its borders to foreign visitors we expect to see a steeper passenger traffic growth curve during Q4.

Recovery will take time

With the many false starts, prolonged travel restrictions and delayed long haul travel bans, it’s no wonder that UK airports are quietly optimistic but excited that the UK airport industry is on the path to recovery. There is still a long way to get back on track to 2019 activity levels, predicted to reach full recovery between 2024-2026 but data suggests we are flying in the right direction.

Agile airport operational planning

To build back better, airports need adaptability and efficiency to build a sustainable airport future. Quickly scaling up the right infrastructure, people and resources as travel demand increases is critical for airport recovery.

Using our Airport Recovery Tool ARTΔ, airport managers can quickly determine all resource needs across kerbside to runway within 5 minutes. ARTΔ is a simple, and powerful schedule-driven modelling tool. It provides passenger, baggage, staff, resources, and equipment data enabling fast, cost-effective, and smart operational decisions. Find out how ART can help your airport scale up here.