European air traffic to almost double by 2030 despite airport capacity constraints, forecasts Eurocontrol
Tue 25 Jan 2011 – According to the latest long-term forecast of flight movements in Europe, air traffic is expected to grow to 16.9 million flights in 2030, around 1.8 times more than in 2009. Eurocontrol estimates annual growth is anticipated to be between 1.6 per cent and 3.9 per cent, with 2.8 per cent the most likely. With commercial aircraft fuel efficiency gains anticipated of 1.5 per cent on average per year – up to 2 per cent if and when full implementation of the Single European Sky programme is achieved – a considerable gap is likely to open up as European legislators seek to cap and reduce the growth in carbon emissions from aviation, unless significant progress is made in emerging technologies. However, restrictions on airport capacity could impact the growth in air traffic, says Eurocontrol, with between 0.7 million and five million flights ‘unaccommodated’ by 2030.
Other possible growth limiting factors could be a peak in oil production reached in 2020. Oil and fuel prices are expected to continue an upward trend and play an important continuing role in airline economics, with passengers likely to bear the increased costs.
One of the four scenarios plotted in the forecast takes into account an industry subjected to regulated growth. “Regulation is returning,” notes Eurocontrol. “Not the piecemeal regulation of prices and market access that was the theme of the regulations un-wound in the 1990s, nor regulation that is entirely new – noise chapters have been with us for some time – but now the pace of environmental regulation is accelerating; and competition regulators are increasingly showing their teeth.”
It says that although the major impacts lie beyond 2030, there are definite risks for the later years of the forecast from the effects of climate change, with threats to infrastructure and to daily operations, with travel patterns changing as summer temperatures rise and droughts presenting economic challenges.
In the meantime, Eurocontrol concludes that growth in the 20-year period will be faster in the early years, stronger in Eastern Europe and for air travel to and from outside Europe rather than within. “In terms of air traffic growth, Europe will be in the slow lane, with the Middle East and China growing much more rapidly,” says the agency. “The rapid growth of low-cost short-haul in the last 20 years has changed passengers’ expectations of short-haul aviation, and hence affected all carriers’ short-haul models. Perhaps the competition from the Middle East in long-haul will have a similar transformational power.”
Eurocontrol says the congestion at airports is now lower than in its forecast of two years ago and the recent drop in traffic has given the system some extra years to react and adapt. The decline, together with a slow recovery, has shifted the previous forecasted traffic volumes back by about five years. “But once the [airport capacity] limits are reached the number of unaccommodated flights increases rapidly,” it says, and will exacerbate delays.
However, even with capacity restrictions, airports will grow and in 2030 there are expected to be between 13 and 34 European airports as big as the top seven are now. Some of the faster growing East European airports are likely to join the top 25. Turkey is likely to be the largest generator of extra flights in Europe, with Germany seeing the highest number of additional flights in its airspace.
On short-haul routes, new or improved high-speed train connections on some 40 city pairs will decrease the demand for flights by a little over 0.5%, forecasts Eurocontrol. On the other hand, it says, passengers will travel on average farther in 2030 than they do now due to more business opportunities in the emerging economies and the saturation of intra-European markets.
“There is growth to come over the next 20 years but it may look quite different from what we have been used to,” commented Eurocontrol’s Head of Forecasting David Marsh. “Each market segment will be different, long-haul different from short-haul and each part of Europe will be different.”