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Spanish airport group Aena warns rebound in passenger traffic may not last

The logo of Spanish airport operator AENA is displayed on a screen at Terminal 4 of Madrid's Adolfo Suarez Barajas airport

By Inti Landauro and Corina Pons

MADRID (Reuters) -Spanish airport operator Aena has warned it does not expect a recent sharp recovery in passenger numbers to be sustained due to the tough economic environment, sending its shares to their lowest in nearly two years.

The operator of airports serving Madrid, Ibiza and Tenerife among other destinations returned to profit in the first half after two years of losses due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, but foresaw traffic levels below 2019 this year.

In a statement on Wednesday it posted a net profit of 164 million euros ($166 million) in the six months through June compared with a net loss of 364 million in the first half of last year, on revenue that doubled to 1.69 billion euros.

Aena said that even though revenue soared thanks to rising aircraft traffic, its expenses rose 40% during the half year to 1 billion euros, largely due to higher energy bills.

The company also said airlines had reduced their summer capacity in Spain to 200 million passengers from a previously announced 216 million.

The number of passengers moving through Spain's airports in the first six months of the year increased to 104.9 million, 82% of the pre-pandemic level in the first half of 2019.

In July, passenger traffic at Aena's airports were at 90% of pre-pandemic levels, but the company said it did not expect that to last given the economic outlook, Chief Financial Officer Jose Leo told a conference call with analysts.

"At present we rather prefer to remain prudent," Leo added.

The company's traffic scenario for full-year 2022 is now in the range of 75% to 85% of its 2019 figures.

Most airlines are being dogged by labour disputes this summer as the steep tourism recovery found them with staff shortages and soaring inflation encouraged cabin crews and pilots to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

Ryanair, the airline that carried the most passengers with a 22.3% market share during the period, had to deal with cabin crew strikes during several days in July. Unions USO and SITCPLA announced more strikes at Ryanair lasting until January.

Second-quarter revenue was slightly below the consensus forecast, mainly because of energy costs, Sabadell analysts said in a note to clients.

Aena's shares fell as much as 7.7% during the morning, touching their lowest since November 2020, and were still 3.5% down in the afternoon.

The company's revenue from duty-free shop rents fell 67.4% in the first half compared with 2021, due to regulations imposed last year forcing it to keep rents for retail tenants down while traffic has not fully recovered from the pandemic.

($1 = 0.9857 euros)

(Reporting by Inti Landauro and Corina Pons; Additional reporting by Joao Manuel Vicente; Editing by Mark Potter and David Holmes)