Almost 400 million fewer passengers travelled through European airports in the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2019, the latest figures show.
The news came as International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general, Irish man Willie Walsh, predicted that airlines would lose $48 billion (€40 billion) this year.
Airports Council International Europe (ACI) said on Wednesday that the number of passengers handled by its members, including Irish State company DAA, fell by 81.7 per cent or 395.5 million, in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2019.
Numbers were down 79.2 per cent on the first quarter of 2020, when countries began grounding air travel in response to the initial signs of Covid-19.
Passengers fell 88 per cent in European Union, European Economic Area, Swiss and UK airports. In Turkey, Russia and other markets, they were down just 49 per cent, the council said.
The organisation warned that virus restrictions had wiped out another 2,000 air routes since the start of the year. Meanwhile, figures for the first 10 days of this month show passenger numbers are down 80 per cent.
ACI predicted that passenger numbers at European airports would fall 64 per cent this year, worse than the 52 per cent predicted in January.
The IATA forecast that global airlines would lose $47.7 billion ($39.6 billion) this year, a recovery from the $126.4 billion (€105 billion) they shed in 2020.
Mr Walsh declared that the crisis was longer and deeper than expected. “Losses will be reduced from 2020, but the pain of the crisis increases,” he said.
“There is optimism in domestic markets, where aviation’s hallmark resilience is demonstrated by rebounds in markets without internal travel restrictions.
“Government-imposed travel restrictions, however, continue to dampen the strong underlying demand for international travel.”
The National Civil Aviation Development Forum last week called on the Government to begin easing the Republic's 14-day hotel quarantines and other travel restrictions, which are among the toughest in Europe.