The number of commercial flights in the European Union continued to increase in March, marking a strong but incomplete recovery. However, although Malta saw less of a decrease than many other countries, several competing Mediterranean tourism destinations registered better performance.

When calculating the difference between the commercial air traffic seen in March 2019 and March 2022, the EU as a whole registered a decrease of 27 per cent, with flights in and out of Slovenia, Sweden and Latvia respectively decreasing by 56 per cent, 45 per cent and 43 per cent.

Maltese commercial air traffic meanwhile decreased by 19 per cent – a significant figure, but one that does not fully capture the depth of the pandemic’s impact on local tourism, with 2021 seeing a drop of around 65 per cent over the number of arrivals in 2019.

However, tourism operators are just as concerned with how these compare to Malta’s tourism competitors – other European Mediterranean destinations – which have largely done better.

In fact, the lowest decreases in commercial flights (when comparing March 2022 with March 2019) were registered in Croatia (-6 per cent), Portugal (-8 per cent), Greece (-12 per cent) and Spain (-14 per cent). When compared to Malta (-19 per cent), these countries, all popular tourism destinations with a Mediterranean climate and culture, have all seen lower decreases in commercial flights.

Total figures

In March 2022, the number of commercial flights in the EU increased by 156 per cent compared with March 2021.

In absolute terms, the number of commercial flights stood at 389,181 in March 2022, compared with 151,986 in March 2021, 296,362 in March 2020 and 530,400 in March 2019.

Top 10 extra-EU countries

Since 2019, the impact COVID-19 has had on commercial flights traffic between the EU and its 10 biggest extra-EU countries (based on 2019 annual data) – UK, Switzerland, Turkey, U.S., Russia, Norway, Morocco, Israel, Ukraine and Egypt – has been clear.

After the unprecedented drops in April and May 2020, following lockdowns implemented across the EU and the rest of the world, flight numbers seemed to be on the way to recovery but that soon failed due to the different COVID-19 waves.

June of 2021 marked the beginning of an increased number of flights with the top 10 extra-EU countries but still below 2019 levels.

Compared with March 2019, commercial flights in 2022 remain below the pre-pandemic levels with all top-10 extra-EU countries, most noticeably with Norway (-34 per cent), the UK (-29 per cent), Israel (-28 per cent), Switzerland (-24 per cent) and Egypt (-19 per cent).

However, when compared with March 2021, there is a clear increase in traffic with eight countries: UK (+599 per cent), Norway (+375 per cent), Israel (+366 per cent), Morocco (+236 per cent), Switzerland (+230 per cent), Egypt (+192 per cent), Turkey (+121 per cent), and the U.S. (+77 per cent).

Due to the ongoing conflict, in March 2022, commercials flights with Russia and Ukraine came to a standstill: there were 52 flights with Russia and zero with Ukraine, compared with March 2019. In March 2019, before the pandemic hit, there were , flights with Russia and 5,414 with Ukraine. In 2021, those numbers had decreased 77 per cent for Russia and 71 per cent for Ukraine.

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