Attendance at French airports is soaring, and it is largely thanks to low-cost airlines. Last year, they drove the resumption of traffic, which however has not yet returned to its levels before the health crisis, according to an annual report of the profession unveiled this Wednesday, March 13.

In 2023, French airport platforms will see 198.7 million travelers pass through. The figure is up 14.2% compared to 2022, but still down 7.3% compared to 2019, the last full year before the Covid-19 pandemic which reduced traffic by 70% in 2020, clarified the Union of French Airports (UAF) during a press conference.

Beyond volumes, the nature of traffic has changed significantly between before and after the health crisis: 43.2% of passengers departing from or arriving at airports in mainland France flew with a low-cost airline. last year, compared to 35.1% in 2019, according to the UAF. Low-cost airlines welcomed 113.8% of their 2019 passenger volume last year, and traditional airlines only 80.8%.

Attendance at specialized airports has jumped, with for example 41.6% growth for Beauvais (Oise), Ryanair base, and 26.5% at Tarbes-Lourdes Pyrénées between 2019 and 2023. No less than 61.4% of Passengers from large regional airports, welcoming more than a million travelers annually, used these carriers.

“If regional airports are where they are today, with this air connectivity, it is largely due to the development of low-cost airlines”, a trend which has been accentuated since the crisis, confirmed the president of the ‘UAF, Thomas June.

These companies (Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air, Vueling, Volotea, Transavia, Eurowings, etc.), which mainly operate short and medium-haul flights and target leisure customers or diasporas, have seen their model “establish itself in France and in Europe” and French regional airports owe them “great economic benefits”, according to Thomas Juin.

Among the losers over four years are the Breton airports (Brest, -34.4%, Rennes, -30.2%), Strasbourg (-21.8%) and Toulouse-Blagnac (-18.9%) which are suffering the competition from rail and a shift away from business travel.

If the UAF expects to return this year to the pre-crisis number of travelers in France, growth in the coming years will be “slow” under the effect of “increased costs” linked to the imperatives of decarbonization of the air transport, warned Mr. Juin.