The warning – issued in conjunction with the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and the Association of European Airlines (AEA) – is in response to a EUROCONTROL report detailing the constraints it has identified in the European air transport system between now and 2035.
The new Challenges of Growth report provides an unequivocal warning that despite slower air traffic growth in the next 20 years, Europe still faces a significant airport capacity crunch, which will damage the continent’s aviation system and connectivity.
As a result of insufficient airport capacity, 12% of demand for air transport or 1.9 million flights per year will not be accommodated by 2035, according to the report, which states that the upshot is that 237 million passengers will be unable to fly.
It says that the main cause for this capacity crunch lies in the fact that airports have been forced to sharply reduce their capacity expansion plans.
Revenue pressures, high capital costs, a lack of political support, poor planning processes and decreasing confidence are all colluding to constrain airport development throughout Europe, it claims.
Indeed, while back in 2008, airports’ capacity expansion plans provided for a 40% increase in capacity by 2030 throughout the European network, these plans have been severely cut back with capacity now expected to increase by just 17% by 2035.
While this airport capacity crunch will be more acute in Turkey, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Poland and Italy, it will have severe repercussions throughout Europe, according to EUROCONTROL.
In particular, delays and congestion will be skyrocketing throughout the airport network, with average delay per flight rising from current levels of 1 min/flight to 5-6 min/flight.
Crucially, all hypothetical mitigation measures such as the deployment of larger aircraft by airlines, new technology and processes under SESAR and the use of uncongested airports will not be sufficient to remedy the situation.
There is no escaping the fact that airport ground capacity needs to keep up with airspace capacity expansion, as planned under the Single European Sky, says the report.
The airport capacity crunch is set to cost airlines and airports in excess of €40 billion of lost revenues and €5 billion in congestion costs – per year – by 2035.
However, the wider economic impact estimated will be far more dramatic. By 2035, insufficient airport capacity will cost Europe €230 billion in lost GDP.
Responding to the report’s findings, air transport partners from Europe’s network carriers, regional airlines and airports of all sizes urged the EU institutions, national governments and regional communities to take a deeper interest in the issue of airport capacity.
“EUROCONTROL’s latest figures on airport capacity are deeply troubling," warned the three association heads – Olivier Jankovec, (ACI Europe), Athar Husain Khan (AEA) and Simon McNamara (ERA).
“They should be of concern to everyone who values the unparalleled connectivity, mobility and prosperity that airports and the airlines which fly from them bring to their communities.
“The message is clear: Europe is falling behind. Meanwhile, the new economic powerhouses of the world are using aviation and airport development as instruments of economic strategy. This is something many of our national governments still need to grasp.”
They added: “Now, more than ever, we need a coherent European policy on airport capacity that addresses the airport capacity crunch and proposes concrete actions in the short-term.
“Quite aside from the substantial economic losses foreseen, without adequate airport capacity, the much talked about efficiencies of the Single European Sky will not materialise.”