Worst year since 1970: CPH lost 22.7 million passengers

Even with two ordinary months of traffic in January and February, passenger numbers in 2020 ended at 7.5 million, a 75.1 per cent drop compared to 2019. We have to go back fifty years – to 1970 – to find a similar passenger volume. The rays of hope were cargo freight and most recently the COVID-19 vaccines. The tides of fortune are expected to turn during the summer. 

Not since 1970 have so few passengers passed through the terminals at Copenhagen Airport. Back then, the number was 6.8 million; in 2020, it was 7.5 million – that amounts to 22.7 million fewer than the year before.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the expanding health crisis made 2020 a historic low point for aviation and for Copenhagen Airport. We haven’t had so few travellers in 50 years. Thousands of people have lost their jobs at the thousand or so businesses and airlines operating at the airport before the COVID-19 crisis hit and sent us back to 1970,” says Chief Commercial Officer Peter Krogsgaard of Copenhagen Airports A/S.

No bridge over troubled water in 2020
Back in 1970, Richard Nixon was the American president, Denmark’s prime minister was Hilmar Baunsgaard of the Social Liberals, the Danish state television announced broadcasting in colour, and Simon & Garfunkel topped the world’s charts with “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

However, it has been difficult to find a bridge over the troubled water or a way out of the global crisis that struck the aviation industry in 2020.

Calculated from 15 March, the date when COVID-19 put the world into lockdown, CPH has had an average of 9,749 passengers per day during this year of the coronavirus. This is the lowest daily average since 1965 when the figure was 9,559 travellers.

“Air travellers during the pandemic have been mainly business people and people making essential family visits. The only time there was a slight let up or joie de vivre was during a brief period in July and August when holiday travellers were able to go to a handful of countries not on the list to which the authorities advised against travel. In December, a fair number of people travelled home for Christmas, so we had 253,000 passengers during that month – though still a drop of 88 per cent from a year earlier,” says Krogsgaard.

Light at the end of the tunnel
There were a lot of bleak images in 2020 of empty terminals and baggage conveyors, closed shops and aircraft parked on unused runways with their engines cold and motionless. But that will change. There is light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel – a way out of the crisis.

“Right now, we’re all waiting for the vaccines to be rolled out during 2021, in Denmark and the rest of the world. It’s still difficult to predict how the future will unfold, but hopefully the government is right in its assessment that things will improve by Easter. Vaccines are the means of putting this crisis behind us,” says Krogsgaard.

“The assurance provided by the vaccines will allow us to gradually return to normality and give us the freedom to travel, especially if international rules are devised on a COVID-19 certificate. Given the current situation, we expect things to get better during the summer, allowing the airlines to recover some of the lost activity,” says Krogsgaard.

CPH will always stay open
The COVID-19 crisis has been a severe blow to the entire aviation industry. In the autumn, Copenhagen Airport had to rely on the banks to borrow double-digit millions of Danish kroner every month just to stay open.

“Our primary objective, and our obligation to Danish society, is to stay open to serve the important air cargo traffic and the passenger flights still operating. We must keep Denmark connected to the rest of the world – no matter what. That’s what we’re doing today with the support of our bankers and the understanding of our owners at a time when most of our revenue streams have dried up and our debt continues to grow,” says Krogsgaard.

Air cargo important for Denmark
During the initial hectic weeks after Denmark closed its borders on 14 March, the focus was on special flights carrying personal protective equipment (PPE) and emergency flights bringing home Danes who had been stranded around the world. Then followed the crucial task of retaining the all-important air cargo traffic.

“It’s essential that Denmark can keep its exports going and still trade with the rest of the world, so it’s fortunate that the air cargo business has done all right during the crisis,” Krogsgaard emphasises.

The volume of air cargo to destinations around the world, including foodstuffs, medicine and machinery, fell by only 30 per cent to 222,783 tonnes. Pure air cargo traffic increased while there was a drop in so-called belly cargo, which is cargo shipped with passenger planes, as many routes were closed or strongly reduced.

Rønne and Aalborg surpassing London
The top 10 of destinations was given a real shake-up during the year of the coronavirus. For many years, London was clearly the most popular destination out of Copenhagen.

However, as the pandemic worsened during the autumn and the highly contagious British coronavirus variant spread across the world, traffic to the British capital began to shrink. In December, London dropped to sixth place on the list, surpassed by, among others, Danish destinations like Aalborg and Rønne.

“Denmark is a small country and traditionally, domestic air traffic has played a relatively limited role. Having said that, with more and more connections to the world being closed, domestic traffic has grown from 5 to 17 per cent of our overall traffic in december,” explains Krogsgaard.


Facts about 2020 at Copenhagen Airport

  • The low point was 9 April, when the airport had 434 travellers. On a normal day, there would be 83,000.
  • April was the quietest month of the year, including for baggage handling as only 7,050 pieces of baggage left Copenhagen Airport. In April 2019, that figure was 590,861.
  • December 2020 had 167 daily arrivals and departures. In 2019, that figure was 614.
  • Even with much fewer arrivals and departures, the percentage of seats filled (the load factor) dropped from 77 in 2019 to 41 per cent during the year of the coronavirus.
  • At the turn of the year, nine shops and eateries were still open in the CPH terminals. Pre-COVID-19, that figure was 150.
  • In a normal year, Danish butter cookies are a hit with tourists in the Taxfree shop, especially with the Chinese. However, the tourists stayed away, so the top seller for 2020 was marshmallows.
  • During both short and long periods of 2020, airlines flew to half of the destinations served before COVID-19 set in, but the number of departures and arrivals fell by 79 per cent.


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