Smaller European airports maintain strong May traffic growth. Moscow excels.

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Europe’s smaller airport traffic growth in May remained strong, with several of the smallest airports expanding at rates well above 20%. Even some larger airports, such as Rome Fiumicino (up 16.6%), Munich (up 7.4%) and the Paris airports (CDG up 7.2% and Orly up 5.6%) showed high growth rates. But Moscow’s airports are surging ahead on the back of a booming economy.

Despite strong signs of economic slowdown spreading eastwards, clearly the bite has not yet affected many regions, according to ACI-Europe’s traffic report for May-08. But the higher rates persisted in airport categories in the small (Group 3;  5-10 million pax p/a) and medium (Group 2; 10-25 million pax. The medium sized Group 2 airports as a whole experienced traffic growth of 4.4% in the month, against May-07, while the smaller, Group 3 airports were up 4.0%.

Fiumicino’s expansion reflects Alitalia’s withdrawal from Malpensa, but Paris’ expanding hub role is well illustrated by the strength shown at its two major airports. (Paris CDG is among the Group 1 airports handling over 25 million pax p/a, which, as a group, reported a 3.8% increase in passengers in May-08).

Russia’s economic strength is illustrated clearly in the health of its airport traffic, with two of its capital city airports, Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport passenger traffic up 29.5% on May last year, and neighbouring Domodedovo, also up 26.5%. Vnukovo is propelled by the rapid expansion of Utair and STC Russia.

Privately operated Domodedovo, aggressively chasing new airlines, for example luring Lufthansa away from the city’s third airport, Sheremetyevo, in April, is continuing its recent trajectory. The home of Aeroflot, Sheremetyevo still has its growth spurt ahead of it since last month’s opening of a direct rail link to downtown.

But in most cases the strongest growth rates were reserved for some of the emerging smallest airports, often, unsurprisingly, on the back of expansion by one or two airlines. This category, Group 4 in ACI-Europe’s classification, has less than 5 million passengers annual throughput.

Thus Vilnius, the fastest of all growth rates of under-5 million pax/year airports, at 29.2%, relied heavily on fast growing flyLAl-Lithuanian Airlines and airbaltic which together account for 66% of its throughput.

Bulgaria is also benefiting from a rapid growth economy and Sofia Airport has enjoyed double digit annual growth each year this century. Service is dominated by Bulgaria Air, but Wizz, SkyEurope and others operate side by side with a selection of flag carriers.

Thus, while many airlines consider cutbacks and are battening down for a cold economic summer, there is still strength in many markets. Whether that force will be maintained as the effects of recent higher fuel prices filter through is yet to be seen.

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