Being the starting and ending point of any flight, airports are a vital part of our aviation system. They are a key component of the Single European Sky and of the SESAR programme. They are also increasingly important to the European economy. Air traffic will continue to grow in the future, as it has done over the past 50 years despite periods of economic downturn and other disruptions. Yet, Europe will not be in a position to meet a large part of this demand because of a shortage of capacity on the ground.
As indicated by Eurocontrol in its last Challenges of Growth 2013 study, the European market is becoming more mature but is far from reaching full maturity except for a few, largely domestic flows. So when confidence and economic growth return, demand is expected to grow again. By 2035, there would be 50% more flights than in 2012 i.e. 14,4 million flights against 9 today. However, plans to increase airport capacity have been scaled back, with an estimated increase in capacity of just 17% by 2035. The combination of this is that by 2035, 1,9 million flights would not be accommodated within the reported airport plans (12% of the demand). That is equivalent to an estimated 120 million passengers unable to fly. Equally striking is the estimated level of network congestion: by 2035, more than 20 airports would be running at, or close to capacity compared to just three in 2012. This would drive ATFCM airport delay up from around 1 minute/flight in 2012 to 5-6 minutes in 2035.
In view of that, it is of the outmost importance that Europe optimises the use of its existing infrastructure. At the same time, quality and efficiency of services at airports must be improved. To ensure its continued success, Europe needs to modernise its aviation model.
Airlines, airports, air traffic management, groundhandling and other transport services are inseparably interconnected and need to cooperate in the most optimised manner to continue to perform in terms of mobility, quality and resilience.
Airports themselves should not be considered in isolation but rather as part of a European airport network. A modernised European airport network is essential to the EU's strategy for growth and to ensure connectivity within the EU and beyond as well as for sustainable mobility.
Access to airport infrastructure at a fair price to airlines makes an important contribution to an efficient overall aviation system. An important step was taken in the European Union in 2009 with the adoption of the Airport Charges Directive on common minimum standards for the setting of charges levied on airlines for the usage of the necessary aeronautical infrastructure for operating flights.
Security checks are often perceived as burdensome by passengers, aviation industry and airports. In order to maintain a high quality of service, the Commission is carrying out a broader reflection on how to improve aviation security checks at airports for the benefit of passengers and other stakeholders.
While Member States are competent for airport infrastructure and are therefore at the forefront of the capacity challenge, the EU can contribute to a modernised European airport network by highlighting common issues and by updating current airport rules. It can also encourage investments, especially through the use of innovative financial instruments, so as to steer growth, secure cohesion within the EU and enhance its economic, societal and cultural links with the rest of the world.