Passenger traffic at non-EU airports posted an average increase of 11.4% (compared to a decrease of -0.9% in 2016), with Russian and Turkish airports enjoying a significant turnaround in fortunes.
Arguably the standout performers of the non-EU nations last year were Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Iceland, whose airports experienced 20%+ upturns in passenger volumes.
Meanwhile, EU airports saw passenger traffic rise by 7.7%, a further improvement over 2016 (+6.7%).
The highest growth was achieved by airports in East and South of the EU – with airports in Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta and Portugal recording double digit growth.
ACI Europe notes that this reflects a "catching-up pattern" in terms of the lower propensity to fly in most of the countries compared to the Western and Northern parts of the EU, along with more dynamic local economies.
“Last year marks the best year for European airports since 2004, when air traffic was boosted by the accession of 10 countries to the EU – the single largest expansion of the bloc," enthused ACI Europe's director general, Olivier Jankovec.
"That parallel is quite something when you consider the current climate includes Brexit and all its uncertainties.”
He added “This performance comes on top of several years of dynamic growth and shows that demand for air transport keeps outperforming the economy and defying geopolitical risks – for now.
"It is quite impressive to see that even in the more mature EU market, passenger traffic since 2012 has increased by close to +30%. Such significant growth is putting much pressure on airport facilities and staff with more and more airports now reaching their capacity limits - especially during peak hours.”
Freight traffic across Europe’s airports grew by 8.5% in 2017, reflecting a cycle of sustained and synchronised expansion in the Global economy and in Europe in particular.
Aircraft movements also increased (+3.8%), on the back of continued airline capacity expansion.
Europe's top five
The top five European airports saw passenger traffic growing by 5.5% in 2017, collectively welcoming an additional 18 million additional passengers.
According to ACI Europe, this "significantly improved performance" compared to the preceding year (+1.5% in 2016) reflects both the continued expansion of Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) in primary markets and the better fortunes of these airports’ hub carriers.
Among the majors, Amsterdam-Schiphol grew at the fastest pace (+7.7%), confirming its third position with 68.5 million passengers, just behind Paris-CDG with 69.5 million passengers (+5.4%).
London Heathrow remained the busiest European airport with 78 million passengers (+3%).
Frankfurt posted the second best performance (+6.1%), handling 64.5 million passengers to hold onto fourth spot, followed by Istanbul-Atatürk, which welcomed 63.9 million passengers (+5.9%).
It notes that his ranking is likely to change in 2018 as Amsterdam-Schiphol has now reached its capacity limits and growth at Istanbul-Atatürk is accelerating (+15.9% in December).
What does this year hold for Europe's airports?
Looking ahead, Jankovec commented: “This might be as good as it gets and while we anticipate continued growth in the coming months, it will most certainly come at a slower pace.
"The good news is that the European economy and the Eurozone in particular are set for further expansion – with economic sentiment now close to a 17-year high. But, on the flip side, rising oil prices are affecting airlines and consolidation is now placing more market share with a handful of powerful airline groups.
"Couple that with the fast-approaching Brexit deadline on the horizon and it’s not hard to see why Europe’s airports can expect the temperature to rise, as airlines get even choosier about where they maintain existing capacity or open new routes.”