Air traffic volumes slowly gaining altitude

statistics on German air traffic

Air traffic volumes in Germany are showing a slight upward trend in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, DFS, the German air navigation service provider, logged a total of 1.67 million flights under instrument flight rules – this is more than in the previous year, but only half as many as in 2019.

Air traffic volumes in Germany are staging a comeback. After the steep decline in 2020 – DFS registered fewer flights than ever before in its history with 1.46 million flights – 2021 showed a slight increase. There were 1.67 million take-offs, landings and overflights in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is just over 14 percent more than in the previous year. Compared to the level before the pandemic, however, this still represents a decline of around 50 percent. A similarly low volume of traffic was last seen in the early 1990s.

On balance, the year 2021 was mixed. After a weak start, traffic volumes increased significantly towards the middle of the year. Between July and October in particular, significant advances were seen, with the figures in each case exceeding those of the previous month. October was the busiest month of the year with more than 208,000 flights. Even the annual decline experienced each November was not as strong as usual, with volumes slipping to around 175,000 flights. In December, DFS registered around 174,713 flights. This is just under a quarter below the level of December 2019.

"Pandemic still far from over"
"This development reflects the typical pattern seen each year," said Arndt Schoenemann, CEO of DFS. "But it also shows that the pandemic is far from over. That is why we at DFS assume that we will probably not reach the pre-pandemic level again until 2025." 

The spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus in particular is increasingly causing problems for aviation. In the United States and China, airlines had to cancel several thousand flights over the Christmas holiday period because pilots, flight attendants and other employees called in sick or were quarantined. 

Cargo airports shrug off the crisis

The recovery at Germany's 15 designated international airports was even slower than in German airspace. Here, in 2021, a total of around 962,000 take-offs and landings were seen, 55 percent fewer than in 2019. 

The picture at the individual airports is already familiar. Airports with a high share of cargo traffic are considerably less affected by the decline in traffic than passenger airports. At Leipzig Halle Airport, where cargo dominates, traffic volumes in 2021 almost reached the pre-pandemic level (around 74,000 flights, -2.2 percent), while Cologne Bonn Airport's volumes were around 37 percent below the 2019 figures. 

The busiest airport with around 260,000 take-offs and landings was Frankfurt Airport (-50 percent), followed by Munich (around 150,000, -64 percent) and Berlin (around 100,000, -64 percent).

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DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with around 5,600 employees as at 31 December 2021. DFS ensures the safe and punctual flow of air traffic over Germany. Around 2,200 air traffic controllers guide more than three million flights through German airspace in peak years, up to 10,000 every day. The company operates control centres in Bremen, Karlsruhe, Langen and Munich as well as control towers at the 15 designated international airports in Germany. The subsidiary DFS Aviation Services GmbH markets and sells products and services related to air navigation services, and provides air traffic control at nine regional airports in Germany and at London Gatwick Airport and Edinburgh Airport in the UK. DFS is working on the integration of drones into air traffic and has set up a joint venture, Droniq GmbH, with Deutsche Telekom. Other subsidiaries include R. Eisenschmidt GmbH, which markets publications and products for general aviation, and Kaufbeuren ATM Training GmbH (KAT), which provides training for military air traffic services personnel. The joint venture FCS Flight Calibration Services GmbH offers flight inspection services.