MIAMI – ACI International, Europe’s largest airline trade group, warned of mass airport bankruptcies as a second spike in COVID-19 cases appears imminent. Approximately 193 airports, mainly of which are small or regional, could be severely at risk for insolvency in the coming months according to a statement made on Tuesday.

The Montréal-based trade council is calling for large-scale government intervention to prevent these airports from shuttering. It is estimated the aforementioned provide 277,000 jobs and represent €12.4bil of European GDP.

“The threat of airport closure means Europe faces the prospect of the collapse of a significant part of its air transport system – unless Governments step up to provide the required support”, said the statement.

A Lufthansa Airbus A320neo. PHOTO: John Leivaditis/Airways

Dangers of a Second Spike

On September 23, the countries of Europe collectively reported 73,800 new cases of COVID-19. On October 23rd, 239,300 cases. The continent is experiencing its second wave of new COVID-19 cases, and governments are once again enforcing travel restrictions and curfews.

As the airline industry was beginning to slowly take a turn for better, these new developments could spell disaster if rising case counts do not taper off.

In September, Europe’s airports saw a year-over-year decrease in passenger traffic of 73%–according to the statement. This was prior to the spike is COVID-19 cases.

Temperature Testing Stations at Milan International Airport. PHOTO: Emergenza coronavirus/Wikimedia

Larger Airports Are At-Risk, Too

While smaller airports are at an increased risk of insolvency due to lower turnovers, larger airports are not immune, said ACI. The Top-20 European airports have amassed a debt of close to €16bil as revenues plummeted during FY2020.

Larger airports are taking additional measures to retain passengers and prevent government restrictions as case counts rise. Earlier this month, France began COVID-19 rapid testing in the countries’ major airports.

Rapid testing at large airports has proven successful thus far, however it will be some time until these processes will come at a low enough cost for regional airports. Industry officials are turning to airports to take initiative in enforcing preventative measures. All other factors removed, maintaining passenger trust and well-being will be the key.

“In the midst of a second wave, ensuring safe air travel continues to be our primary concern”, said ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec. It’s crucial that we reduce the risks of importation and dissemination as much as possible. But surely we can do a much better job of reducing those risks by testing air passengers rather than with quarantines that cannot be enforced.”

Featured Image: Empty Turnstiles at London-Gatwick Airport, one of the largest regional airports in the UK. PHOTO: Mark Hodson