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The European aviation sector is one of the best performing parts of the European economy, and is a world leading industry. 900 million air passengers travel each year to, from and within the European Union, making up one third of the world market.

Naturally, airports have a central role in the connectivity provided by airlines to passengers and freight customers within the EU, and further afield. Airports are also increasingly regarded as engines of economic growth in their own right. In 2015, Airports Council International estimated the total economic impact of airport and aviation-related activities at €338 billion across the EU. Aviation can act as an 'economic multiplier', and facilitate and generate wider economic activity. It's also good for jobs. A recent study for the Commission estimates that up to 2 million people are employed directly in the EU aviation sector. Overall, the sector supports 5.5 million jobs.

For large airports in particular, overcoming problems such as capacity and congestion through better air traffic management is critical to meet increased demand for flights. Airport connectivity in Europe varies between airports. Some hub airports offer hundreds of destinations while small regional airports offer just a few routes. Geography is not the only factor that determines the location of successful international hub airports and airlines. The availability of suitable infrastructure, workforces and tax regimes, as well as historic, cultural and trading links all play a part.

Better connectivity, fairer competition

The availability of competitive airport services, including runways, passenger terminals and groundhandling, is critical for the continued success of EU aviation. The EU is working to ensure this success, and has adopted legislation on the allocation of slots at airports, on groundhandling services and on airport charges facing airlines.

In 2014, the Commission adopted new guidelines on state aid in the aviation sector . These new rules aim to ensure that airports located in regions with specific air transport needs may be granted public funding. The rules also mean that a level playing field for airports and airlines is maintained and that taxpayer's money is used fairly. More information about state aid in the aviation sector can be found on DG Competition's webpage .

Through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), €26.25 billion is available from the EU’s 2014-2020 budget to co-fund important transport projects. This policy aims to close the gaps between Member States' transport networks.  The Connecting Europe Facility regulation sets out the rules for awarding EU financial support, priority projects and the maximum limits of EU co-financing per type of project.

As well as ensuring the availability of appropriate infrastructure for the aviation system to be able to grow and meet demand as necessary, fulfilling their economic and social role, airports are a vital link in the aviation chain in ensuring the safety and security of the overall aviation system.