One year since COVID-19 hit Malta, airport traffic is now down 93%

February 2020 was the last relatively normal month for travel to Malta, before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a Europe-wide grounding of aviation

February 2020 was the last relatively normal month for travel to Malta, before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a Europe-wide grounding of aviation.

As latest data from Malta International Airport shows, in February passenger traffic dipped to an all-time low since the airport’s reopening to commercial flights in July 2020.

Totalling just 27,524 passenger movements, February traffic registered a drop of 93.5 per cent over the same month in 2020. Amongst the airport’s top 10 markets, the United Kingdom registered the largest drop in passenger numbers as a ban restricting travel between the two countries remained in place.

“If the industry is to see the predicted signs of recovery by the start of summer, urgent and coordinated stakeholder action, which would allow for the safe restart of travel and tourism activities, is needed at national and European levels. While the focus should remain on the effective roll-out of vaccination programmes, other key matters, including health certificates and leveraging mobile technology to enable the reopening of borders, should also be given due importance,” said Malta International Airport CEO Alan Borg.

Last February marked a year since Malta International Airport first reported the early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, manifested in declining seat load factors (SLF) – particularly on Italian routes – as the demand for air travel started to wane towards the end of the month.

 With consumer confidence and air travel demand remaining particularly low, seat capacity deployed by airlines in February 2021 was at just 10 per cent of February 2020 levels. Standing at 52.5 per cent, last month’s seat load factor showed that just over half the seats available on flights to and from Malta were occupied throughout the month.

Rest of Europe

In February 2020 there were many high-frequency connections in the European network: 157 short- and medium-haul airport pairs had 12 or more flights per day. Tehse connections were largely domestic, or between major capital cities: Madrid-Rome, London-Stockholm, for example.

Busiest, with more than 35 flights per day, were Berlin-Frankfurt and routes between the Canary Islands.

With COVID-19, priorities have changed. As they clambered out of the first lockdown, airlines attempted to restore broad networks even if it could only be done at low daily frequencies. This winter, with a second wave of lockdown, not even that minimum connectivity could be maintained.

In February 2021, only 29 routes reached the 12 per day threshold. The highest-frequency connections were on domestic routes, such as Paris-Toulouse, Istanbul-Antalya, or in between Canary Islands. Indeed, this focus on domestic routes is evident across the February 2021 map. Madrid-Gran Canaria had a more frequent service this year than last, so appears in only the February 2021 map.

Two international routes stand out in February 2021: Kyiv-Sharm el Sheikh, mixing leisure charter and scheduled flights; and the core Air France-KLM link between Paris/Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam/Schiphol, boosted a little by cargo from FedEx and others.