Ryanair B737-800
The era of heavily discounted flights has come to an end. | © REUTERS / Paul Hanna

We have heard how airports around the world are now struggling to recover from the Covid pandemic crisis and subsequent restrictions put in place. In Asia, Hong Kong’s International Airport is no longer on the top table as a global aviation hub. In addition, many European airports, including those in the UK, are facing difficulties dealing with staff shortages due to staff being laid off during the pandemic and the struggle to re-recruit. This has now translated into poorer performance with three of Britain’s airports in the bottom 15 airports in Europe in terms of passenger recovery rates (the percentage of passengers using the airport when compared to pre-pandemic levels).

The three British airports in the bottom 15 according to Anker Report are London Southend, Southampton, and Exeter Airports. The analysis revealing this which took place in June of this year took data from 350 airports in Europe. It appears that over 200 of the airports had recovered to at least 80% of the passenger levels seen in pre-pandemic June 2019. However, the 15 airports at the bottom of the pile, which all had at least 10,000 passengers in June 2022, were still below 50% in terms of their passenger recovery rates.

London Southend Airport

Referring specifically to British Airports, London Southend performed the worst when compared to all other airports. So it was right at the bottom of the pack. Its passenger recovery rate was 7.1%. This figure is also significantly lower than the airport which was the next lowest performing passenger recovery rate (Sweden’s capital’s airport at Stockholm) at 23.3%. One can see from this that even among the lowest performing airports London’s Southend is significantly worse than others.

London’s Southend airport is the sixth airport serving London (after Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and London City). One of the reasons given for the airport having the lowest passenger recovery rate is that it was formerly a base for the airline Flybe which collapsed during the pandemic. In addition, it was also a base for airlines easyJet and Ryanair. However, these airlines closed their operations in Southend to focus on other more major London airports. easyJet has now returned to the airport but only did so in May with regular scheduled services to Faro (Portugal), Malaga (Spain) and Palma de Mallorca (Spain).

easyJet continues to operate at a loss
easyJet has now returned to London Southend Airport © Marco Macca / Travel Radar

Southampton and Exeter Airports

The issue with the collapse of Flybe also appears to be a running theme with the other two British airports in the bottom 15. In the case of Southampton Airport, which had a passenger recovery rate of 35.1% and was fourth from bottom, Flybe accounted for 98% of the passengers using Southampton Airport. So its collapse had a major impact on the airport and its ability to recover. Since then, it has attracted the airlines BA City Flyer, Blue Islands, Easter Airlines, KLM, and Loganair. In addition, it appears that the newly revamped Flybe has restarted operations there in July of this year with flights to Avignon (France), Belfast BHD (Northern Ireland) and Toulon (France). Flybe also has plans to start new domestic routes next March. Aer Lingus Regional also began flights to Belfast BHD in July. So as one can see, a lot of new activity is taking place at Southampton Airport which is likely to improve the situation later on.

KLM aircraft
KLM is now flying from Southampton Airport | © KLM

Exeter Airport, which was ninth from the bottom with a passenger recovery rate of 44.6%, has also been heavily reliant on Flybe for its passengers. It was therefore also like Southampton and Southend, heavily affected by its collapse. Tui and Ryanair also had a presence at Exeter. Unlike in the case of Southampton, the newly revamped Flybe has no plans to return to Exeter. However Exeter has been able to attract Aer Lingus Regional (from Belfast BHD and Dublin in the Republic of Ireland), Aurigny (From Guernsey, UK) Blue Islands (from Jersey, UK) as well as Loganair. The fact that Flybe is not coming back to Exeter may be a hinderance to the airport however since other airlines have come in there is still hope for its future.

As one can see Flybe’s collapse has heavily affected all three airports, London Southend, Southampton and Exeter. However, all of them have new airlines or airlines returning more recently which will no doubt help in boosting performance. We have to wait to see how this progresses.


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