Eurocontrol is forecasting that up to 25% of air traffic demand could fail to be accommodated by European airports by 2030, unless the continent's air transport system becomes more "agile".
While this is the gloomiest among various scenarios forecast in the organisation's latest long-term outlook, "Challenges of Growth", its prediction is that capacity will probably lag 11% behind demand by 2030. Demand for air transport in Europe is forecast to generate 20.4 million flights a year by then, but airports, taking into account the current economic downturn and plans for airport development, will only be able to handle 18.1 movements, suggesting there will be a demand for 2.3 million flights that cannot be met.
Eurocontrol has assessed 138 airports to compile the forecast. It concludes that airport capacity is planned to rise by 41% over the 2007-30 period as a result of 29 new runways, plus airside and groundside infrastructure, and even entire new airports.
Since the previous forecast, in 2004, Eurocontrol says the network capacity situation has improved. It says the network will be able to handle 1.7 million more flights by 2025 than previously expected. But it warns that, while airport plans are better adapted than four years ago, there remains a "significant airport capacity challenge", adding that this includes delivering the plans already outlined.
It also points out that unaccommodated demand almost doubles in the period 2025-30, showing a sharp acceleration of congestion towards the end of the forecast. Within available capacity, Eurocontrol predicts that there will be 1.8 times as many flights in Europe by 2030 compared with last year - with particularly strong development in the east of the continent. But this outlook also says that the figure could rise to as much as 2.2 times that of 2007.
"Air traffic management needs to be ready to manage a highly congested air traffic network," says the forecast document. "All in all, the European air transport system will have to become more agile to respond to the challenges of growth."