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Europe's airports risk 'near total collapse' in face of pandemic

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A passenger wears a face mask in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport, as Britons have been advised against non-essential travel to anywhere in the world as the coronavirus crisis closed borders around the globe. Photo: PA

A passenger wears a face mask in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport, as Britons have been advised against non-essential travel to anywhere in the world as the coronavirus crisis closed borders around the globe. Photo: PA

PA

A passenger wears a face mask in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport, as Britons have been advised against non-essential travel to anywhere in the world as the coronavirus crisis closed borders around the globe. Photo: PA

Europe's airports are facing a near total collapse of passenger traffic and need "extraordinary and urgent funding" to remain operational, industry body Airports Council International has warned the European Commission.

Airline and passenger traffic has sharply fallen due to national and pan-European measures, including lockdowns, designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In response, ratings agency Moody's has placed Aer Lingus owner IAG's ratings on review for downgrade and has already downgraded easyJet's rating to Baa2 from Baa1.

Airline industry groups said that the EU needed an urgent "comprehensive package of measures" to ensure that as many airlines as possible survive the crisis.

A4E and ERA, whose members include the likes of Ryanair, Lufthansa, Aer Lingus owner IAG and others, said Europe "must preserve essential minimal connectivity".

"Any restriction, in particular within the Schengen area, must therefore be based on a careful risk assessment and be proportionate to the public health risk," the organisations said in advance of a meeting of EU transport ministers today.

The bodies have called for air traffic control charges and aviation taxes to be deferred across the EU.

The European arm of Airports Council International (ACI) said preliminary figures showed that passenger traffic at EU, Swiss, UK and European Economic Area airports slumped an average of 54pc between March 9 and March 15. It tumbled 24pc the previous week.

"We now estimate that these airports will collectively lose over 100 million passengers in the first quarter of this year compared to a business-as-usual scenario," ACI Europe president Jost Lammers told the European Commission and transport ministers in an open letter yesterday.

"The unprecedented shock to their traffic and revenues means several airports are now facing cash flow issues," he added. "These cash flow problems risk becoming systemic for Europe's airports and raise issues of business continuity, which must be addressed by the EU."

He urged the commission to provide funding and cash flow resources where needed, on a similar basis to what will be considered for airlines.

Mr Lammers said that airports' economic and financial resilience must be preserved to allow them to return to normal operations as soon as possible and support the recovery of the wider economy.

"Airports act as engines of local and regional economic growth and employment," he said. "Many of them are indeed the largest employment site in their region, and/or country."

The ACI executive also pointed out that airports' ability to mitigate revenue losses tended to be limited compared with other businesses.

He said airports needed to keep servicing their debt, with capital costs typically accounting for 30pc of their total costs.

At the end of last year, the DAA, which operates Dublin and Cork airports, had a total of about €700m in debt. It has €400m of notes that mature in 2028.

Dublin Airport is Ireland's largest airport, handling 32.9 million passengers last year.

Irish Independent