Eurocontrol outlines crippling capacity challenge

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A long-term vision by pan-European air navigation organisation Eurocontrol depicts European airports desperately struggling to meet demand for air travel by 2030.

The report Challenges of Growth 2008 - the findings of which Flight International has seen before its official publication - is a candid assessment of the challenges posed by the growth in air travel after the latest round of consultations with the industry.

While similar levels of unaccommodated demand in 2025 remain unchanged - levels that have already been pegged at costing the European economy €90 billion ($115 billion) a year - the new long-term forecast indicates that airports are likely to handle 1.7 million more flights in 2025 than was forecast four years ago.

In the survey, 138 airports reported plans to increase capacity by 41% between 2007 and 2030. These plans include 27 airports adding new runways and other infrastructure, 79 airports making air/ground-side improvements, and five major new airports. Only 27 airports reported no plans to expand capacity.

In Eurocontrol's most-likely scenario, the number of unaccommodated flights grows rapidly from 0.9 million in 2025 to 2.3 million by 2030, meaning that 11% of flights will not be accommodated on current planning.

"However, an important characteristic of both slower- and faster-growth scenarios is the rapid growth of unaccommodated demand. The volume of unaccommodated demand increases by a factor of three between 2020 and 2025 and then doubles in the next five years," says Eurocontrol.

Climate change is also expected to have large-scale effects on demand over the long term. Hotter summers in the Mediterranean could affect the patterns of demand for air travel as would warmer winters over northern and eastern Europe, and longer summer seasons.

The two most effective methods for reducing unaccommodated demand were, firstly, the use of alternative airports, and secondly, a combination of improvements at airports planned under the European Single Sky research programme and investment to bring airports to best-in-class capacity.

Current plans for high-speed trains are factored into the forecast, but were judged to be of narrow applicability in reducing air congestion due to its diminishing returns.