Passenger traffic at European airports reported an annual rise of just 1.8% in 2012, which has been labelled "an alarming decline in passenger traffic growth", according to a new report from Airports Council International (ACI) Europe.
The report revealed that EU traffic has been hit by recession since October 2012 and grew just 0.2% year on year, compared to non-EU airports which reported an 8.8% rise in passenger traffic.
Freight traffic and aircraft movements at European airports declined 2.8% and 2.1% respectively during the period.
ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec said since 2008, passenger traffic has grown by less than 2.5% at EU airports and by more than 38% at non-EU ones.
"For now, EU airports are stuck in recession for both passenger and freight traffic. The Eurozone economies may show signs of stabilising, but the 'positive contagion' referred to by the European Central Bank remains elusive when it comes to air traffic," Jankovec said.
"This reflects weak business confidence and record unemployment levels in many countries, but also the woes of several European airlines, which are downsizing and cutting capacity."
European airports with passenger handling capacity of over 25 million per year (group 1), including Istanbul IST, Moscow SVO, Moscow DME, Amsterdam and Barcelona, collectively reported a 2.5% rise in passenger traffic during 2012.
Passenger traffic at European airports with passenger handling capacity of between ten and 25 million passengers (group 2), including Istanbul SAW, Berlin TXL, Nice, Geneva and Vienna, rose 1.4% during the period.
Airports serving passenger traffic between five and 10 million passengers (group 3), such as Bucharest OTP, Charleroi, Izmir, Ankara and Toulouse-Blagnac, reported 1.7% rise in traffic in 2012.
Group 4 category, comprising airports with a capacity of less than 5 million passengers per year, such as Arad, Vatry, Vilnius, Paphos and Kiruna, posted 0.4% rise in traffic over 2011.
"While there are a few green shoots with air traffic now picking up in Ireland and Portugal, the outlook for 2013 remains grim for EU airports and still very dynamic for most other ones," Jankovec added.
"Based on the prevailing trading conditions, our best estimate is for nearly flat growth (+0.5%) in passenger traffic at Europe's airports for the year ahead. Many airports are now facing a new reality of slower and more contrasted traffic growth.
"Given our industry's traditional reliance on dynamic traffic growth to sustain its capital intensive-nature and high proportion of fixed costs, this is a significant business challenge. In all probability, things are going to get worse before they get better."
Compared to 2010, passenger traffic at all the group 1, group 2, group 3 and group 4 airports rose 11%, 8.2%, 8.3% and 8.4% respectively during 2012.
During December 2012, EU traffic declined 3.1%, which dragged down the overall European passenger traffic leading to a decline of 1.1%.
Image: Istanbul Atatürk Airport in Turkey reported 20.3% rise in passenger traffic during 2012.