Europe’s growth in aviation travel continues apace

In this year’s annual update on the growth of the aviation industry, it is clear the aviation industry is still maintaining its momentum of healthy growth. The biggest news: a record-breaking 2 billion passengers welcomed in 2016! Thanks to the 5+% growth of 2015 continuing in 2016, Europe’s airports served more travellers than ever before.

The number of commercial aircraft movements gained more ground. Movements in 2016 were up 3.2% from 2015, a significant increase on the 2.2% growth over 2014 and 1.7% the year before. Improving economic conditions are driving much of the growth, with European freight transport up 4.1% and airlines expanding capacity to accommodate more passengers and freight.

Europe’s five busiest airports in 2015 are still the busiest in 2016, but with one interesting difference: only Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport showed significant passenger growth (9.2%). That was sufficient to move Schiphol into third place, behind Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle, and a nice achievement to crown its centennial year. In 2015, we predicted Istanbul-Ataturk might take top spot within two years. But 2016 was a terrible year for Turkey, with an attempted coup and the impacts of terrorism that has put off travellers.

Also in our infographic, we have again included a graph showing passenger growth in Asia. Europe is seeing steady growth, but the fact that Asia’s aviation industry is growing twice as fast does put that in a somewhat different perspective.

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Opportunities and challenges ahead

This growth is positive news for the aviation industry. However, it also presents challenges in how to reap the benefits both sustainably and profitably. When we look at the sources of the current growth, certain aspects indicate threats as well as opportunities.

A real problem for Schiphol, for example, resulting from the unexpected growth in 2016, is that the airport has nearly reached its agreed-upon cap of 500,000 aircraft movements annually until 2020. The number reported in 2016 was 478,866. Capacity constraints is a major issue for most of the larger airports in Europe.

There have also been positive prospects for airport capacity growth. Schiphol is investing in a new pier and a new terminal, Heathrow’s third runway was finally approved in late 2016, airlines are making a profit again, and some are establishing new airlines with a focus on low-cost long-haul, creating new demand for transatlantic flights.

The continuing popularity of low-cost carriers will mostly benefit the cheaper, mid-sized airports throughout Europe. How will these airports, such as Dublin with an 11.5% increase in passengers in 2016, or Bucharest with an 18.3% increase, respond to such large increases in traffic? It is a development worth watching.

About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. For more information, please refer to

2 thoughts on “Europe’s growth in aviation travel continues apace

  1. Surprised that Frankfurt outpaced Berlin even though the latter is a bigger and more important city. It will likely take some time before Germany’s capital city catches up to where it was before WW Two.

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