Despite a minor increase in traveller numbers ahead of the Easter break, passenger traffic in March shrunk to a mere 6.3 per cent of the traffic in March of 2019, a year before COVID-19 descended on the world. Airlines are ready for busy summer take-off, but everything now depends on what the reopening plan for the travel industry will look like. Even with the few people currently travelling, social distancing and testing requirements are putting the airports under pressure.
A total of 430,000 people passed through the terminals at Copenhagen Airport during the first three months of 2021. This is equivalent to the number of travellers in just five ordinary days before the COVID-19 pandemic when the daily average was 83,000 passengers.
'It's a sad sight. The aviation industry is still on its knees, and as many as 10,000 jobs have been lost in and around Copenhagen Airport. The airlines' programmes offer lots of options for getting away this summer. But it all depends on the vaccines, the future EU Covid status certificate, infection trends, restrictions and the new reopening plan for the entire industry,' says Chief Commercial Officer Peter Krogsgaard of Copenhagen Airport, applauding the decision made by the Danish government and the Folketing.
'The political agreement to allow the travel industry to reopen will provide greater visibility for the entire industry. It's very positive - and important - for the airlines and the travel agencies that Danes are again able to begin planning safe and responsible travel. And it's important for the Danish tourist industry that - in the first instance - European tourists can plan visiting Denmark this summer,' says Krogsgaard.
Passenger traffic in March ended at a daily average of 4,800 travellers, even with the slightly higher level of activity in the days leading up to Easter. The total number of travellers for the month was 148,877, a 93.7 per cent decline relative to 2019. Compared to March 2020 - bearing in mind that the national borders closed on 14 March - passenger numbers fell by 82.5 per cent.
Corona restrictions causing space shortages
Despite the very limited number of travellers, the corona restrictions are already causing shortages of space and longer wait times for both departing and arriving passengers at Copenhagen Airport.
'It may sound odd that it's a challenge running an airport with so few passengers, but we've had to close about half of the check-in desks due to the two-metre rule between passengers. In addition, all travellers are now required to go through check-in at the airport due to the many rules and the test and documentation requirements at the various destinations. These procedures are very time consuming,' says Krogsgaard.
Arriving passengers may sometimes also have to be extra patient. Everyone must take a rapid test and wait for the result before they are allowed to go through the expanded passport check.
'A fast working committee will be established as part of the reopening plan, charged with finding solutions to easing the requirements for social distancing and rapid testing, so we can get passengers through the Danish airports in a safe and efficient manner. This is clearly the right decision,' says Krogsgaard.
Air cargo flying high
The number of travellers in 2021 to date has dropped by 93.7 per cent relative to 2019, while the numbers of departures and arrivals are down by 82.3 per cent. The discrepancy is due to the fact that several airlines have continued to fly even with very little demand and a load factor, meaning the number of seats sold, often below 50 per cent.
'The partial closure of air routes in Europe and of long-haul routes has led to a lack of capacity for air cargo. All passenger planes carry so-called belly cargo, and that alone may make it worthwhile to operate a route, even with very few passengers, and several airlines have elected to do just that. As a result, air cargo traffic in and out of CPH has shrunk by only a third,' explains Krogsgaard.
Add to this, the issues relating to technology and maintenance. It is expensive and a complex exercise for the airlines to ground their fleets, seal the engines and put the advanced technology on standby. Aircraft are best maintained by being kept operational, so the airlines will fly their aircraft as soon as it makes any sense at all, for example when they can carry air cargo.