Data collated by State statisticians shows that a surge in traffic between Dublin-London and Dublin-Amsterdam helped to drive the recovery in passenger numbers in the final three months of 2021.
The Central Statistics Office’s latest aviation statistics quarterly report shows more than 9.1 million passengers passed through Irish airports last year, which was up 10 per cent on the previous year but still 76 per cent down on the last pre-pandemic year, 2019. The numbers in the final quarter were down only 47 per cent on 2019, however.
The number of flights into and out of the country fell last year by two-thirds on 2019 levels, the CSO data suggests. Dublin accounted for 90 per cent of all traffic. However, freight traffic in Irish airports in 2021 was up 16 per cent on the previous year.
While the annual figures highlight the damage that was done to the critical aviation sector over the whole year, the breakdown of the CSO's figures illustrate the surge in travel that began in July 2021 when European Union travel certs first came in.
The CSO says Dublin handled just 284,000 passengers in June, jumping to near 640,000 the following months as the restrictions began to ease. By October, Dublin’s monthly passengers peaked at more than 1.5 million, before falling back slightly to below 1.2 million by December.
The numbers travelling through Kerry, Knock and Shannon airports all surged in the second half of the year. However, the numbers at Cork airport fell back late in the year – the airport scaled back operations for work on its runway after September. Cork’s monthly traffic peaked at close to 74,000 in August before the works began. In October it recorded zero passengers and less than 15,000 in November, before climbing again above 72,000 in December.
The CSO data shows that Dublin to London-Gatwick was the busiest route in the State in the final quarter, with more than 201,000 passengers. This was followed by Dublin to London-Heathrow with more than 198,000 passengers, and Dublin to Amsterdam, with almost 183,000.
Meanwhile, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation has called for the CSO to resume the regular detailed surveys it used to conduct of tourists at Irish airports. The CSO suspended the surveys upon the arrival of the pandemic and has yet to reinstate them.