Spanish airport operator Aena said on Tuesday it expects passenger traffic to return to normal this year after it booked an annual net profit in 2022 for the first time since the pandemic.

With the end of COVID-19 restrictions, the number of passengers at Aena's airports gradually recovered last year, approaching pre-pandemic levels in December and surpassing them in January 2023.

The company posted a net 2022 profit of 901.5 million euros ($954.51 million), compared with a loss of 475.4 million euros in the prior year.

Its shares rose 2.5% on Tuesday morning.

While some European airports were affected by staff shortages as tourism rebounded last year, Aena's terminals have run smoothly since the summer, something it attributed to its ability to keep hold of workers during and after the pandemic.

For 2022 as a whole, Spanish airport traffic reached 88.5% of 2019 levels. Aena lifted its estimate for 2023 to 99% of 2019 flows while not ruling out topping pre-pandemic numbers this year. The airport operator had previously said it expected a full recovery of traffic only in 2024.

In comparison, London's Heathrow expects to carry 58 million-73 million passengers in 2023, or around 90% of pre-pandemic levels at the upper end of the range.

Aena's revenue grew 69.3% to 4.23 billion euros in 2022, with half generated by aviation operations. Total commercial income surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time, standing 1% higher.

The company will pay a dividend of 4.75 euros per share.

"All divisions reported better-than-expected full-year revenues in 2022," brokerage Royal Bank of Canada said in a note to investors.

Aena has launched a duty-free shop tender for an area of 66,000 square metres for which it has already received interest from companies in China, the Middle East, the United States and Panama.

It also plans to purchase new screening machines that it says could improve passenger flows by speeding up checks of hand luggage. (Reporting by Corina Pons, editing by Inti Landauro, Kirsten Donovan)