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The Latest News From the IAA

2020 Air Traffic – Return to 1980’s Levels

15 Jan 2021
  • Successful vaccine roll-out could provide for sustained recovery from Q3 2021
  • 498,803 flights handled by the IAA in 2020, 58% fewer movements than in 2019 
  • 213,106 trans-Atlantic movements - down 58% on 2019
  • Dublin airport commercial flights handled down 64% on 2019 to 83,252

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) confirmed that 2020 saw the lowest level of flights in Irish airspace since the late 1980’s. Despite a positive start to the year with strong January and February results, the remainder of the year was devastating for Irish aviation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The IAA’s air traffic control division managed less than 500,000 flights in 2020 - that’s over 670,000 fewer than in 2019. This represents a 58% decrease in Irish air traffic over the previous year and is the worst year on year decrease for the number of flights recorded travelling through Irish and north-Atlantic airspace. Despite this decline, all flights were managed safely and efficiently, and the IAA has ensured that Irish airspace remained fully open throughout the pandemic.

IAA Chief Executive, Mr. Peter Kearney said that while aviation in Ireland has been badly hit by COVID-19, the resilience of the Irish aviation sector and all who depend upon it is encouraging:

“We’ve never experienced a year as bad as 2020; however, the IAA and the industry played its role in the national effort to contain COVID-19.  We must re-double these efforts now, whilst also looking forward to a brighter future for the sector. Recovery will start later this year and aviation must be ready to play its key role in supporting economic and social wellbeing, when recovery commences.  While the numbers of flights remain very low in January and for the foreseeable future, we are hopeful of a sustained recovery from Q3 onwards.” 

The figures show that Ireland has seen a larger than average decline in air traffic numbers compared to the wider European network. This is in large part due to the decline in trans-Atlantic air traffic, of which the IAA handles 90%.  Aviation, while hopeful for an improved 2021 compared to 2020, cannot recover until restrictions are lifted and there is certainty for the longer term.  

Mr. Kearney added, “The IAA has focused on ensuring there is no loss of safety or service quality across its essential services throughout the pandemic.  We will continue to support the nations’ efforts to keep supply chains open through safe and efficient air traffic operations at the state’s three airports and in Irish controlled airspace.  Looking forward, we are planning for a re-boot of the industry in line with the European and US roll-out of vaccines.” 

2020 State airport traffic compared to 2019:
• Dublin airport recorded a 63% decrease in traffic numbers compared to 2019 figures
• In 2020 commercial air traffic declined by 70% at Cork airport 
• Shannon airport saw a 58% decrease in movements in 2020 compared to the previous year

Two other key areas of the business impacted by the 2020 aviation crisis:
• There were 154,189 overflight traffic flights handled (flights, which do not land in Ireland), down 56% on 2019 movements
• 213,106 North Atlantic Communications flights (Europe /US Flights) managed in 2020 - a 58% decrease on 2019 figures

A comprehensive breakdown of 2020 air traffic figures (on a month by month basis) can be viewed at