Larger regional aiports look to longhaul lifeline

A quarter of Europe’s regional airports have yet to recover from the pre-crisis peak of 2008, according to European airports industry group ACI-Europe.
While direct connectivity levels have improved for regional airports since that time, they have recovered at a far slower pace compared to larger hubs.

Airport chiefs reported that for now, most regional airports are focusing their route development strategies on Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) which are the only airlines growing their intra-European route network this summer (+2%), while both Large Full Service Carriers and Regional Carriers keep retrenching (-7% and -17% respectively).
“However, the focus of LCCs has also moved towards larger markets in search of higher yields, with their approach to regional airports becoming even more opportunistic,” they noted. Accordingly, the number of LCC bases at regional airports across Europe – 93 bases at 78 airports – remains below its 2014 level (98 bases at 82 airports).
Even so, new niche opportunities are potentially opening up for larger regional airports with LCCs now exploring long-haul operations. “This would undoubtedly boost regional air connectivity and thus give a new impetus to local economic development,” stated ACI-Europe.
The example of Norwegian Airlines’ plan to open direct connections from Cork airport to the US is a cited case in point, although ACI-Europe noted that: “it is worrying that such promising development is held hostage by political interference – with the US Government so far not complying with the terms of the 2007 EU-US Aviation Agreement.”
Speaking at the annual ACI EUROPE Regional Airports Conference & Exhibition, Olivier Jankovec, director general, ACI EUROPE commented: “With trading conditions for aviation overall being the best in years, the main challenge actually remains the policy and regulatory environment. We need regulations that better reflect and support market dynamics. This is the case in particular for airport charges – which generally continue to be regulated with a rear-view, as if airports were still monopolists. We also need regulations that put consumers at the forefront and boost air connectivity. This means ignoring protectionist forces and overcoming resistance to change by moving forward on open skies. This also means coming to terms with the Single European Sky and doing away with aviation taxes.”
He added: “The European Commission’s Aviation Strategy goes in these directions, connecting the dots between aviation and the economy– but ultimately, it needs meaningful support and alignment from Member States if it is to have real impact.”
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