It’s not over yet but anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave knows that the beginning of this decade will go down in history as one of the worst for the travel industry.
The biggest and busiest airports in Europe have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak just as badly as airlines. In Europe, the number of airborne flights in April 2020 decreased by an astounding 93% compared to the same time last year.
With the arrival of summer and the need to support the tourism industry which many countries are relying upon for economic survival, things have progressively got better, but we’re still nowhere near the air traffic levels of 2019, with 78% fewer airborne planes in June compared to the same period last year.
Keeping in mind that airport rankings are based on previous year data, we can nonetheless determine what are the busiest and largest airports in Europe in 2021.
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The Busiest Airports in Europe
To find out what are the busiest airports in Europe in 2020, we need to look at the volume of passenger traffic registered during the previous year.
What is the busiest airport in Europe in 2020?
For another consecutive year, Heathrow Airport remains the busiest airport in Europe in 2020, with a total of 80,886,589 passengers in 2019. Based in the UK, London Heathrow ranks 7th among the busiest airports in the world.
Top 10 busiest airports in Europe
- London Heathrow Airport (LHR) (80,886,589 passengers)
Not only is London Heathrow Europe’s busiest airport, it keeps welcoming an increasing number of passengers. In 2019, passenger traffic at Heathrow airport grew by +1% compared to 2018. While the epidemic outbreak of 2020 is sure to put an end to this increase, the largest airport in the UK also holds the title of second busiest airport by international passenger traffic.
2. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) (76,150,007 passengers)
The second busiest airport in Europe, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport is also France’s largest international airport, preceding Paris Orly. With a recorded growth of +5.4% in passenger numbers compared to 2018, Roissy Airport is also one of the fastest-growing one in Europe and the 10th busiest worldwide. In May 2020, Charles de Gaulle Airport implemented measures by European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) aiming at ensuring the health safety of passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) (71,707,144 passengers)
With a passenger traffic increase of +0.9% compared to 2018, the largest airport in the Netherlands is the third busiest airport in Europe. Unlike most large airports across the world, Schiphol Airport only has one (massive) terminal building, split in three halls. Despite remaining continuously open during the coronavirus outbreak, the busiest European airport in terms of aircraft movements recorded a severe drop in air traffic since March 2020.
4. Frankfurt am Main Airport (FRA) (70,556,072 passengers)
Fifteenth busiest airport in the world after Schiphol Airport, Germany’s biggest airport in passenger traffic is also Europe’s fourth busiest airport. Lufthansa’s main hub, Frankfurt Airport hosted 1.5% more passengers in 2019 than in 2018. It’s also a major hub for international travel, being one of the airports with the most direct routes in the world. A test center was opened in Frankfurt Airport at the end of June 2020 in the hope of reopening air travel and "support a return to a new normal" and help travelers avoid quarantine at their destination.
5. Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) (61,734,037 passengers)
Spain’s Barajas Airport is the second largest in Europe after Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. It is the country’s busiest airport, ranking fifth in terms of passenger traffic in Europe. Already a major air traffic centre in southwestern Europe, Madrid’s main airport saw a +6.6% increase in passenger numbers in 2019 compared to 2018. After undergoing a complete lockdown in April 2020, Barajas Airport has been progressively reopening, operating on a very restricted air traffic schedule.
6. Barcelona–El Prat Josep Tarradellas Airport (BCN) (52,686,314 passengers)
El Prat Airport is Spain’s second largest and second busiest airport in Spain, with a passenger traffic growth of +5% compared to 2018, and a hub for Spanish airline Vueling. As the country was severely hit by the pandemic outbreak, the flight cancellation rate at El Prat remains high.
7. Istanbul Airport (IST) (52,578,008 passengers)
The only airport of this ranking that was not in the previous edition, Istanbul Airport immediately became Turkey’s largest airport. Opened in 2019, Istanbul Airport replaced Istanbul Atatürk Airport for scheduled passenger flights. It should quickly become Europe’s busiest airport, planning to accommodate 200 million passengers a year. A large test center was established there at the end of June 2020 to support the fight against COVID-19.
8. Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO) (49,438,545 passengers)
With a passenger traffic increase of +9% compared to 2018, Sheremetyevo Alexander S. Pushkin International Airport is the fastest-growing European airport on this list. One of four airports serving Moscow, Russia, it is the eighth busiest airport in Europe and the main hub for national air carrier Aeroflot. Measures to limit the spread of coronavirus were taken early, according to Sheremetyevo International Airport’s Chairman, Alexander Ponomarenko.
9. Munich Airport (MUC) (47,941,348 passengers)
Second busiest in Germany after Frankfurt, Munich Airport is the ninth busiest European airport. A +3.6% increase in the number of passengers was recorded at the Bavarian airport in 2019 compared to 2018. Munich Airport has taken measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and is reopening its terminals.
10. Gatwick Airport (LGW) (46,574,786 passengers)
The second UK airport on this list, London Gatwick is the tenth busiest in Europe. Believe it or not, it is also the busiest airport in the world to operate with only one runway, accommodating a growth of +1.1% in passenger traffic in 2019. Forced to close terminals when faced with the dramatic drop in passenger demand, Gatwick is reopening its terminals as summer flights seem to be back on the program.
The Biggest European Airports
To find out what are the biggest airports in Europe in 2020, we need to look at the size of the airport, which ones are the largest.
What is the biggest airport in Europe in 2020?
Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport is the largest airport in Europe, covering 32.38 square kilometres (12.50 sq mi) of land.
Top 5 biggest European airports
- Charles de Gaulle Airport (France)
- Adolfo Suárez Madrid (Spain)
- Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (Italy)
- Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (Netherlands)
- Frankfurt Airport (Germany)
While most of the largest and busiest airports in the world are located in North America (mainly in the United States), Europe does count an impressive number of large airports.
(Check out this ranking of the biggest US airports)
2020 numbers will undoubtedly be less impressive than 2019’s, but governments across Europe have already pledged billions of euros to support the air travel industry.