European air traffic is expected to increase to 14.4 million flights in 2035, a 50 percent increase over 2012, according to the 20-year "Challenges of Growth" forecast released by air navigation safety provider Eurocontrol on Monday. Although the projected growth rate is slower than the forecast released by the group five years ago, the new forecast warns that Europe will face a capacity problem within its aviation system.
The projected capacity problem results from airports in the region being forced to reduce their expansion plans significantly due to poor planning, a lack of government support, revenue pressures and high operating costs. In 2008, European airports had capacity expansion plans allowing for a 40 percent increase in air traffic by 2030, but now capacity is expected to increase by just 17 percent over the next 20 years, mainly due to the economic downturn in the Eurozone.
The new capacity plans were reported by European airports in a recent survey. Eurocontrol estimates that the insufficient airport expansion plans could lead to about 1.9 million flights per year (about 12 percent of demand) not occurring by 2035.
"Compared to the forecast published in 2010, the starting point is lower due to the economic downturn and the rate of growth is also lower, due to weaker economic outlook and reduced airport capacity plans," Eurocontrol said in the study.
Eurcontrol's estimated growth rate over the next 20 years is 1.8 percent annually, which is around half of the annual growth rate that occurred in the region between 1968 and 2008. The study also projects 3.4 million less flights in Europe by 2030, than was previously predicted by the group's 2010 forecast.
The limited airport capacity expansion is predicted to cost European airlines and airports up to $51.4 billion in lost revenues per year, according to a statement released by the Association of European Airlines (AEA) in response to the study.
"Eurocontrol's latest figures on airport capacity are deeply troubling," said Athar Husain Khan, acting secretary general of AEA, Simon McNamara, director general of the European Regions Airlines Association (ERA) and Olivier Jankovec, director general, Airports Council International Europe, jointly commenting on the report.
"The message is clear: Europe is falling behind. Meanwhile, the new economic powerhouses of the world are using aviation and airport development as instruments of economic strategy. This is something many of our national governments still need to grasp," the three airline representatives added.
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