One troubling statistic shows the challenges Cardiff Airport faces more than any other. While most airports in the UK saw more passengers pass through their doors in 2023 than the year before Cardiff's numbers dropped.

Statistics released this year by the Civil Aviation Authority show Cardiff Airport is the only one of the UK's top 30 airports to have lost passengers between 2022 and 2023 with all others increasing their numbers. Cardiff served 859,805 passengers in 2022 and 838,574 in 2023 – a drop of around 21,000 in a year marred by Wizz Air pulling its services from the airport.

While other non-London airports including Bournemouth, Edinburgh, and George Best Belfast City (one of the city's two airports, both with more passengers than Cardiff) saw passenger numbers jump by 25% or more Cardiff's went down by 2.47%.

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Cardiff Airport lost £4.4m in the financial year 2022-23, although this was down by £2m from the previous year. Since the Welsh Government bought it in 2013 it has lost nearly £61m. For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter.

The picture has continued to worsen with Eastern Airways pulling its last route – to Paris – from Cardiff and Ryanair announcing an expansion at Bristol on a far bigger scale than its services from Cardiff. But the airport's bosses are confident Qatar Airways will return soon. The airline last flew from Cardiff pre-pandemic. Hungarian-owned Wizz Air launched a dedicated operation in Cardiff in April 2022 but mothballed it in September of the same year and dropped plans to recommence it.

The numbers include terminal passengers – those travelling directly to or from Cardiff – and the very small number of transit passengers at Cardiff Airport. Transit passengers are people using an airport to get to another destination and represented 0.16% of Cardiff Airport's passengers, 0.02% of London airports', and 0.01% of Bristol's.

Spencer Birns, CEO of Cardiff Wales Airport, said: "The airport finished the 2023 calendar year with 841,188 passengers, which was 2% down on the same period in 2022. Despite losing Wizz Air in this period, which was 13% of our capacity, the growth we locked in already materialised with some other carriers."

The slight difference in the airport and the CAA's numbers is down to the CAA not counting certain flights including private and military aircraft. Mr Birns continued: "Highlights of the growth expected this summer includes TUI, Wales’ largest tour operator, adding 12,000 more holidays for our customers.

"This is providing even more choice from its services to 23 popular destinations that the operator flies to from Cardiff Wales Airport. Due to high demand many of the extra holidays are available for trips to Turkey, Tunisia, and Cyprus.

"Ryanair is growing its choice of destinations to five routes. The airline is adding two new routes to Alicante and Tenerife. This is in addition to flights to Dublin, Malaga, and the Algarve."

On April 10 Ryanair announced an expansion at Bristol Airport that will mean the airline has more than 20 times as many flights in Bristol than in Cardiff. The budget airline will now fly to 36 destinations from the English airport this summer.

A Ryanair spokesman said after the announcement: "From a general perspective I don't think it is that one is going to be prioritised to be more active than the other. We have these aircraft in Bristol that are allowing us to operate a lot of this schedule and we do see demand. We are always reviewing what is required at each of our airports, not just Bristol or Cardiff but across the network, and just applying feeding the demand accordingly."

Mr Birns told WalesOnline in February that without the loss of Wizz Air in 2023 the airport's numbers would have been up by the end of the year. He added: "For the team I thought we did really well in managing that. In the year growth fundamentally came from a number of carriers including Ryanair, Vueling, Tui, KLM, and Emerald, which operates the Aer Lingus service to Belfast." He said "anecdotally" demand was outstripping supply and cited plans for Ryanair's new routes. Try WalesOnline Premium for FREE by clicking here for no ads, fun puzzles and brilliant new features.