Heathrow going down the chute, Russia and Turkey emerge

Shutterstock / tigristiara

As London Heathrow lost its title as the busiest airport, emerging aviation hubs in Turkey and Russia came to take its place.

London loses its crown

In 2019, London handled 126.5 million passengers, more than any other city in the world. The main airports – Heathrow and Gatwick – together with Stansted, Luton, London City, and Southend helped London to keep its spot as the most connected city. However, the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions radically decreased the passenger traffic, dropping it by 73%.

On February 24, 2021, London Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported an annual loss of £2.01 billion for the fiscal year of 2020, down from a profit of £546 million in 2019. The company said it was the “toughest year by far” in its 76-year history.

“Government policies over recent months have effectively closed borders. We have had no government support, other than furlough, and have not been given relief from business rates, unlike other airports, retail and hospitality businesses,” the airport said in a statement.

So far, the only hope for Heathrow is the UK government’s newly announced roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions that could allow international travel to resume in May 2021.

As of February 2021, the UK, former biggest aviation market in Europe, has slumped to sixth place by passenger numbers.

Emerging leaders

However, according to the analysis carried out by Ralph Anker, the editor of the Anker Report  and former network planner at easyJet and Go, two aviation powers have emerged through the crisis. After analyzing a database of passenger traffic from over 400 airports from April to December 2020, Anker outlined that Turkey and Russia, both extending through Europe and Asia, are clear leaders.

One of the reasons is an advantage of a strong domestic market that both Russia and Turkey have. Russia is Europe’s largest country and domestic traffic is performing reasonably well at around 80% of the previous year in December. During the summer months, Russian domestic demand was almost at the same level as in 2019.

Turkey’s domestic traffic during the summer also peaked at around 60% and dropped off to around 40% in December and January. Istanbul Airport (IST) even with 68% decline in passenger traffic is clearly outperforming other European hub airports. It was Europe’s busiest airport in January 2021, handling 1.7 million passengers. Turkish Airlines is the dominant carrier at the airport, accounting for almost 80% of seat capacity according to Cirium Data and Analytics.

Meanwhile, Moscow’s Domodedovo (DME) and Sheremetyevo (SVO, share the second place for the busiest airport in Europe. Sheremetyevo International Airport hosted 1,351,000 passengers in January 2021, an increase of 9.4% over the December 2020, while Domodedovo airport oversaw 1.5 million passengers.


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