In 2023, the number of commercial flights in the European Union (EU) continued to rebound towards pre-pandemic levels, reaching 6.3 million flights.
However, this figure still remained 7% below the 7 million flights recorded in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Summer Travel Boosts Flight Numbers
According to Eurostat, flight traffic saw seasonal fluctuation over the course of 2023.
The busy summer travel period from June to August registered the highest monthly flight volumes, between 10.9% and 11.4% of total annual flights.
Meanwhile, the winter months of January and February saw flight numbers dip below 400,000.
Non-scheduled charter flights and other special flights made up 9.2% of flights in 2023.
Their prevalence also peaked in summer at 10.9% to 11.4% of monthly flights between June and August.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Topped List of Busiest Airports
In terms of individual airports, Amsterdam’s Schiphol claimed the top spot with 453,000 flights handled in 2023.
This was followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle (451,000) and Frankfurt Airport (427,000).
Of the top 10 busiest airports, those with the highest share of non-scheduled flights included Athens (5.6% of flights), Vienna (5.1%), and Madrid Barajas (4.7%).
Global Air Traffic Nears Full Recovery
While EU flight numbers gradually recovered, data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed air traffic worldwide is nearing pre-pandemic levels.
Total traffic in November 2023 stood at 99.1% of November 2019 volumes.
Asia-Pacific airlines saw the highest year-on-year rise at 63.8%, while European carriers grew by a more modest 14.8%.
Business travelers proved largely unfazed by economic uncertainty, powering a continued rebound in flight demand.
IATA Director General Willie Walsh predicts the 2019 peak “is rapidly closing” as obstacles to travel dissipate.
This will facilitate needs like ETIAS pre-travel authorization required for visa-exempt entry into Europe, as more visitors arrive.
For EU residents, recovering flight traffic provides more options to visit popular European destinations as border restrictions ease.
Sustained demand could see the region matching or exceeding 2019 flight volumes within the next year.
Full Flight Recovery in Sight for Europe
As EU flight numbers rebound towards pre-pandemic benchmarks, aviation analysts predict the region’s full travel recovery remains within reach.
Barring any major setbacks, projections indicate Europe could match or pass its 2019 flight traffic peak sometime in 2024.
Progress restarting routes to Asia still lags other regions, but all signs point to airlines continuing their momentum as lingering barriers to movement disappear.
With flight search trends and summer bookings at robust levels, everything is in place for EU aviation’s full comeback after its largest ever downturn.
This returning freedom of mobility will be a boon for regional economies as well as make European vacations more accessible for new visitors and returning travelers alike.