Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Frankfurt — London’s Heathrow Airport, operating at full capacity since the start of the decade, eked out a further 700,000 passengers to extend its lead as Europe’s top travel hub in 2016 as growth in Paris stuttered and Istanbul and Frankfurt fell back.

Heathrow’s traveller tally rose 1% to 75.7-million though aircraft movements were up only 0.2% with the trend toward bigger aircraft. Heathrow is the main base for British Airways.

Paris Charles de Gaulle stayed in second spot with its passenger total rising 0.3% to 65.9-million, hit by a slump in demand for travel to France after a spate of terror attacks. Security concern also cut numbers 2% at Istanbul Ataturk, which dropped from third to fifth, swapping places with Amsterdam Schiphol, which gained 9.1%.

The Dutch airport has benefited from its six runways, tied to growth last year at the KLM and Transavia arms of Air France-KLM Group. But it could begin to hit capacity constraints with movements rising to 479,000 in 2016, equal to 96% of the 500,000 cap imposed to limit the impact of noise and pollution.

"We were surprised by traveller volumes," said Schiphol CEO Jos Nijhuis. "We were prepared for all sorts of scenarios, but these were mostly cautious. Like many forecasters and economists, we remained in recession mode for far too long."

Istanbul Ataturk had expanded at a rate unrivalled in Europe in recent years, overtaking Madrid and Amsterdam in 2014, and Frankfurt in 2015. That growth ended as visitors stayed away in 2016 after terror attacks across the country and Turkish Airlines reined in growth in the wake of atrocities and July’s failed coup attempt.

In Germany, Frankfurt had a 0.4% decline to 60.8-million customers as strikes at Deutsche Lufthansa, its biggest operator, led to the scrapping of 4,500 flights in November and the airline switched the focus of growth to the Eurowings discount brand, which does not operate from the hub.

Amsterdam aside, Europe’s fastest-growing major airports were Madrid and Barcelona, as tourist travel switched westwards from the strife-torn eastern and southern Mediterranean. That helped boost Spanish airport operator Aena’s market value 23% to €20bn.

While Heathrow may not be able to maintain its European lead indefinitely, and has already been overtaken by Dubai as the world’s busiest international hub, the airport last year won its campaign for a £16bn third runway to would lift yearly capacity to 135-million passengers.

The passenger tally at London Gatwick rose 7.1% to 43.1-million. Gatwick has only one runway and has been vying with Heathrow for the right to add another. Including figures from the Stansted, Luton and City terminals, London was once again easily the world’s biggest multi-airport system.


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