Report: Regional Airports – Busting the Myths

Aviation

September 4, 2018//-There is a perception of what makes a regional airport that has been created over many years that needs to change.

That perception is generally based around small airport terminal facilities, one or two flights a day – frequently operated by small turbo-prop aircraft with perhaps a maximum 50 seats capacity, expensive air fares, a small car rental facility, locally made cakes and meals in a small cafeteria area and early closing on most days!

That may have been an image many have, but the world is changing rapidly, and regional airports are where the opportunity is today.

Defining a regional airport is difficult. What measurement criteria do you use? Is it the number of scheduled seats per annum, the range of destinations served, the proportion of connecting passengers or just the pure geographic location?

Such is the difficulty of definition that some of Europe’s regional aviation membership groups can’t even define what a regional airport is! The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all definition.

It would be fair to say, however, that we are talking about airports in Europe with, at the bottom end, fewer than 100,000 scheduled seats per annum and at the very top end a maximum of 10 million seats.

That capacity range captures 290 airports in Western Europe and “feels” consistent with the airports that appear most active in the area of route development. Collectively, this group of airports have seen capacity increase by over one third in the last five years as their popularity grows amongst both airline operators and travelers.

With just under 4.6 million departing seats this year Valencia sits just in the top thirty airports if we use the definition above. We’ve taken a closer look at what’s been happening there as an example of just how regional airports are changing.

It’s a fascinating case study and busts many of the myths that have built up around regional airports. Since 2013, scheduled capacity has grown from a 2.8 million departing seats to 4.6 million; an increase of nearly 60%, and a level of growth that any airport would be envious of achieving from such a strong starting position.

Today, twenty nine airlines operate to the airport, a net increase of only four carriers over that period suggesting some significant growth across a group of happy airlines with the prime carriers,

Just under two-thirds of all capacity is provided by low-cost airlines which now supply close to three million seats per annum. To dispel one common myth here, legacy airline capacity has grown by 25% since 2013 so regional airport growth is not always about low-cost airlines.

In fact, in the case of Valencia both Lufthansa and Swiss, hardly low cost by any measurement criteria, have added significant capacity whilst both KLM, Aeroflot and TAP have launched services in the last two years.

Even British Airways has started operating to Valencia! The next myth is that regional airports are purely for small aircraft types. Seventy percent of all scheduled flights operated at Valencia are performed by either B737 or A319/320/321 series aircraft.

And at the other end of the spectrum only 4,000 flights this year will be operated by ATR42/72 aircraft; that’s about eleven a day – just 6% of Valencia’s daily flights. The average capacity per movement at Valencia in 2018 will be 152 seats; by means of comparison at Brussels, Europe’s capital city, the average will be 157 so very little difference indeed.

Another myth about regional airports are their limited hours of operation. The first flight departs as early as 05:55 and the last arrives back as late as 01:00 from Ibiza. If Valencia is typical regional airports clearly have something to offer airlines but what can other regional airports learn?

The first clue is in the term – “regional” airports. Successful airports appear to have gathered local community support across both private and public sector bodies and that stretches beyond pure marketing support.

Personal relationships are crucial, flexible approaches to operational requirements key, low operating costs a given but perhaps most importantly is a “can do” mind set across all stakeholders and a common approach to route development goals.

In many cases regional airports are extensions of the local economy, vital for both commercial connectivity to the world but also for economic growth by developing incoming tourism.

Enlightened regions across Europe now view air service development as a team effort and at many industry forums a combination of airport and tourist board can be seen in partnership.

Busting another myth concerning regional airport traffic is that mostly it connects to somewhere else via a hub airport. In the case of Valencia latest data from OAG suggest that only 16% of bookings include a connection.

Obviously, the growth of low-cost capacity has brought that proportion of traffic down providing a better balance of traffic for the airport. But equally, that connectivity remains crucial; some 450,000 people travelled from Valencia via a connecting airport to a city outside of Europe with New York (35,000) and Shanghai (23,000) very high in the list of indirect routings.

For Iberia alone in the last year, Valencia provided some 222,000 bookings via their Madrid hub to other destinations. With an estimated revenue of some 27.6 million euro’s these are hardly the sort of numbers that you would expect if you still believed that regional airports were just regional!

Available capacity is also a key selling feature of regional airports. In an increasingly congested European market many major airports are now close to capacity with available slots sometimes difficult to balance.

Regional airports generally have no such challenges and can accommodate their customers quickly and efficiently. When an airline has to maximise aircraft utilisation that can be a very important factor.

And for those big hub airports that still have some capacity available and are seeing new city pairs added, the reality is that many of those are to regional airports in Europe from where connecting traffic can provide such value.

In conclusion, perhaps those regional airports that have previously been bracketed as being small and not worthy of attention are actually where the real opportunities for future air service development exist. Judging by the interest in the upcoming AviaDev Europe event it may just be that everyone is in Valencia in December discussing a major part of the European aviation scene.

AviaDev Europe has partnered with Midas Aviation, an experienced team of aviation specialists that understand data, the power of effective analysis and the value of clear concise information to provide the complimentary report at the myths surrounding regional airports. Using Valencia as an example of just how regional airports are changing. 

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