Low Cost & Regional

Growing momentum: How smaller European airports are dealing with growth in passenger traffic

European aiports

The spike in traffic at European airports is not limited to the major gateways. At smaller European airports, the numbers are picking up.

The Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has disclosed that passenger traffic across the European airport network grew by +8.5 per cent in 2017. Both the return of a growth dynamic in the non-EU market and the continued expansion of passenger volumes in the EU contributed to this performance.

Olivier Jankovec, director-general of ACI Europe, said that 2017 marked the best year for European airports since 2004 when air traffic was boosted by the accession of 10 countries to the EU – the single largest expansion of the bloc.

“That parallel is quite something when you consider the current climate includes Brexit and all its uncertainties,” Jankovec noted. When the glamorous major gateways like Heathrow and Schiphol are moved aside, several smaller players come into the fray.

Riga International Airport in Latvia (RIX) is the largest air traffic hub in the Baltics. The 16 airlines operating at the airport fly to over 60 destinations. The airport saw full-year passenger numbers reach six million in 2017, that’s up 12.9 per cent compared to 2016.

Analysing last year’s data, Ilona Līce, chair-person of the board of Riga International Airport, said a strategically important increase was the number of transit passengers, which peaked in December last year, rising by almost 40 per cent.

The average share of transit passengers last year accounted for 29 per cent, an increase of more than 20 per cent as compared to 2016, according to the airport’s data.

“The number of direct passengers also grew by 11.6 per cent. The aviation industry is developing in the entire region,” commented Līce. London, Moscow and Frankfurt were the most popular destinations in 2017. RIX recorded almost 20 new destinations last year.

Several airlines have announced new services for this year in 2018, notably home carrier airBaltic. In January alone, the Latvian carrier transported 233,334 passengers, 24 per cent more than it did the previous year. This figure represents the best performing January in the airline’s history.

European airports: Cologne Bonn
easyJet returns to Cologne Bonn after a two-year hiatus

airBaltic will launch a new summer seasonal route between Riga and Almaty in Kazakhstan at the end of April 2018 – the first such link from Northern Europe.

In 2018 and beyond, RIX will continue the development of the terminal building, expanding the passenger check-in hall, the baggage claim and sorting areas, security controls area, as well as constructing of a multi-storey car park and connection to the ‘Rail Baltica’ Riga Airport station.

In Scandinavia, Denmark’s Billund Airport reported all-time highs in both passenger and cargo traffic for 2017, welcoming 284,000 more passengers than in the previous year. This resulted in a total of 3.4 million passengers travelling through west Denmark’s busiest gateway in 2017.

Cargo volumes also peaked record levels handling 73,000 tonnes, a 9 per cent year-on-year increase.

Billund’s international traffic rose by a noteworthy 13.8 per cent: “Our international routes have created significant growth over the last few years, with 2017 being no exception,” explained Kjeld Zacho Jørgensen, CEO, Billund Airport.

“Our core catchment embraces seven major west Danish cities and the overall progression in the economy in our area has been evident over the last 12 months. Our strong customer base is taking advantage of our expanding route network and cementing Billund’s position as west Denmark’s international airport,” added Jørgensen.

Billund has already lined up an additional five new routes and one new airline to maintain the airport’s progression in 2018. Kick-starting the summer season, Wizz Air will commence the airport’s first direct connection to Iasi, the second-largest city in Romania, with a twice-weekly service from the end of April.

The Hungarian ultra low cost carrier also launched the highly desired link to Vienna. The last 10 years have seen a steady year-on-year increase of indirect traffic to the Austrian capital city, with 2017 recording an all-time high of 350,000 Danes visiting Austria, the airport accounted.

Later this summer, Billund will add two new connections to Athens as Ryanair commences a weekly service from 15 May. Primera Air also plans to launch a weekly connection to the Greek capital city from 23 May.

European airports: passenger numbers increase
Passenger numbers are growing steadily at European airports

“We are looking forward to another year of developing our connectivity with the world,” stated Jørgensen. “Over the next three years we will be investing in our infrastructure to support our strategy in providing a sustainable airport and, with thanks to our partners confirming new routes, as well as frequency increases on existing successful services, we can continue our journey and get great results together.”

In another milestone, Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany cracked the 12 million passenger mark last year. Building on a landmark year in 2016, Cologne Bonn Airport delivered its best-ever year in terms of throughput in the airport’s history, concluding 2017 with new all-time records for both passenger traffic and cargo.

As a result, 2017 becomes the fourth consecutive year that both passenger and cargo traffic has grown. Handling 500,000 extra passengers in 2017 than in the previous year, Cologne Bonn produced a solid 4 per cent passenger traffic growth, resulting in a total of 12.4 million passengers using the airport in 2017.

Over one million passengers per month used the facility during April to October last year – the first time the airport has ever achieved this feat. Air freight also developed positively in 2017 ‒ processing 840,000 tonnes and representing a 7 per cent increase ‒ another highpoint for Germany’s third-largest cargo airport.

At Cologne Bonn, the growth driver in passenger traffic in 2017 above all was Eurowings. Lufthansa’s in-house low cost carrier (LCC) added new destinations such as Cape Town and Windhoek in southern Africa. The only such services in the North Rhine-Westphalia region.

Though reportedly, the airline will be discontinuing its long haul operations from Cologne Bonn with the start of the 2018 winter flight schedule. Eurowings has also expanded its range of domestic routes from the airport with extra services to Berlin and Hamburg, as well as a new route to Munich being added.

Despite the bankruptcy of airberlin in October, which operated to Berlin Tegel and Munich, the airport still managed to produce a passenger increase of 3 per cent in 4Q17. The withdrawal of long haul traffic by Eurowings should still be compensated by the arrival of new travellers from elsewhere.

Cologne Bonn has confirmed the return of easyJet from this summer. From 1 June, the LCC will add 33 weekly flights connecting to its latest hub in the German capital.

European airports: Prague
Prague saw record traffic rise to 15.4 million last year

“We are pleased to welcome easyJet, one of the fastest-growing European airlines, back to Cologne Bonn. The carrier’s new multiple-daily connection significantly increases the attractiveness of our offer on the Berlin route which is in high demand,” says Athanasios Titonis, managing director, Cologne Bonn Airport.

The LCC returns to Cologne Bonn after a two-year hiatus, gaining an immediate 40 per cent share of flights to Berlin Tegel, and significantly boosting the gateway’s domestic connections. In February this year, Aeroflot’s low cost subsidiary Pobeda launched twice-weekly services from Cologne Bonn to St Petersburg utilising 737-800s.

Commenting on the latest announcement, Titonis said: “We are very pleased that Pobeda is expanding its involvement at our airport. The new connection is not only attractive for those who want to stay in the exciting city of St Petersburg, but also for those who are travelling in Russia.”

Moving to Central Europe, and according to the latest ACI data, in 2017 Václav Havel Airport Prague in the Czech Republic ranked fifth among the fastest-growing airports in Europe in the category of 10-25 million passengers.

The airport secured fifth place after reaching a record traffic volume of 15.4 million passengers last year. This represents a year-on-year increase of 17.9 per cent, the airport has stated.

Additional data reveals that in 2017, Václav Havel Airport Prague saw an increase not only in the total passenger traffic but also in many other sub-indicators. The passenger increase was 16.5 per cent on short haul routes to European destinations while reaching 20 per cent on long haul flights.

Passenger traffic also grew from network carriers (+ 19.5 per cent) and low cost airlines (+19.6 per cent). Growth is also expected this year and projections are showing that passengers numbers will reach 17 million.

Vienna International Airport (VIA) in Austria exceeded the threshold of 24 million passengers for the first time according to its operator Flughafen Wien Group. VIA handled 24,392,805 passengers in 2017, comprising a rise of 4.5 per cent from the previous year.

In particular, long haul routes had a positive impact on the airport’s performance, as well as new flight connections and frequency increases on the part of the airlines. In contrast, developments relating to the closure of airberlin and NIKI negatively affected airport operations but was more than compensated by the growth generated by Austrian Airlines, Eurowings and easyJet.

European airports: Vienna airport
2017 was a record year for Vienna Airport

Additional data released by the airport operator shows the number of transfer passengers developed positively (+4.4 per cent) as did local flight traffic (+4.5 per cent).

The number of flight movements (starts and landings) remained largely stable at minus 0.8 per cent, and capacity utilisation of the aircraft (seat load factor) rose by 1.3 percentage points to 74.8 per cent. Cargo volume developed positively during the year, climbing by 1.9 per cent to 287,962 tonnes.

“2017 was a record year for Vienna Airport,” declared Julian Jäger, member of the management board of Flughafen Wien AG. “In particular, the growth drivers were Austrian Airlines, Eurowings and easyJet, and flight service on long-haul routes also developed very favourably.

“We are also optimistic with respect to 2018 and expect a passenger growth of more than 3 per cent at the Vienna Airport site, with a substantial growth impetus from the Lufthansa Group and the low cost segment. For example, new carriers such as Wizz Air will launch flights from Vienna with three aircraft and 17 destinations,” Jäger concluded.

The positive performance by European airports comes on top of several years of dynamic growth and shows that demand from for air transport keeps outperforming the economy and defying geopolitical risks – for now.

Editor’s Note: The post was originally published in April 2018.

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