Europe’s aviation network could see capacity gap of 160 million passengers by 2040 if no ‘urgent action’ is taken

A new study from Eurocontrol, the European organisation for the safety of air navigation, suggests that without “urgent action”, the European aviation network will be unable to cope with the demand for air services by 2040. With European aviation already seeing high levels of delay this year as the network struggles to cope with record levels of traffic, its ‘European Aviation in 2040: Challenges of Growth 2018’ report warns of a potential capacity crunch and outlines some solutions which aside from building additional runways and terminals include technology innovation, schedule smoothing, using larger aircraft and multi-modal approaches.


Summary:

  • New EuroControl study suggests that without “urgent action”, the European aviation network will be unable to cope with the demand for air services by 2040;
  • Its forecast suggests that even accounting for existing development proposals  there won’t be enough capacity for approximately 1.5 million flights or 160 million passengers in 2040;
  • Europe is already suffering higher rates of delay across first five months of 2018 than ever before – en-route Air Traffic Flow Management delays have risen dramatically from 0.46 minutes per flight to 1.05 minutes per flight:
  • EuroControl’s most likely growth scenario predicts an increase in flights of +1.9% a year between now and 2040, a 53% increase in flights by 2040 to 16.2 million a year.

It is clear that there are already some significant pinch points in Europe’s aviation system and Eurocontrol data from the first five months of this year do not make positive reading on this matter with much higher delays than in recent years. Traffic has increased +3.4% year-on-year versus 2017 but en-route Air Traffic Flow Management delays have risen dramatically from 0.46 minutes per flight to 1.05 minutes per flight. More than a quarter of this delay (28%) was attributed to disruptive events (such as strikes) and 27% to weather. However, more than half (55%) was attributed to staffing/capacity issues, notably in Germany, France and the Low Countries.

Speaking at the ACI General Assembly held today in Brussels, Eamonn Brennan, director general of EuroControl acknowledged “Europe is already struggling to cope with the levels of traffic this year and warned that “we need to address the issue as a matter of urgency” as while forecasts are looking longer-term “providing more capacity, and especially on this scale, requires long-term planning”.

CHART – In its ‘Regulation and Growth’ scenario, there will be 16.2 million flights in Europe in 2040, +53% more flights than in 2017. That is an average growth of just +1.9% per yearSource: EuroControl’s European Aviation in 2040: Challenges of Growth 2018

EuroControl’s most likely growth scenario within the ‘Challenges of Growth’ publication predicts an increase in flights of +1.9% a year between now and 2040, a 53% increase in flights by 2040. That means 16.2 million flights a year. But it is a conservative estimate and could be as much as 19.5 million flights a year under its highest growth scenario, an 84% rise by 2040.

Under these growth levels four countries will each see more than three thousand additional flights per day (the United Kingdom, Turkey, France and Germany). Even though airports are expanding their capacity plans, with the top 20 airports planning to add 2.4 million runway movements, this will not be enough. “On our most likely scenario, there won’t be enough capacity for approximately 1.5 million flights or 160 million passengers in 2040,” says Mr Brennan.

Many airports will become much busier, with higher delays. The study estimates that by 2040, 16 airports will be highly congested operating at close to capacity for much of the day (up from 6 airports today). As a result of this congestion the number of passengers delayed by 1 to 2 hours will grow from around 50,000 each day now to around 470,000 a day in 2040.

CHART – In its most likely scenario for growth ‘Regulation & Growth’ France, Germany, Turkey and the UK will all see more than a thousand additional flights per day by 2040Source: EuroControl’s European Aviation in 2040: Challenges of Growth 2018

The ‘Challenges of Growth’ report “is crucial for policy makers as they prepare for the future,” says Mr Brennan and aside from building additional runways an terminals , highlights how additional airport capacity can be delivered through other means. These include technology innovation, schedule smoothing, using larger aircraft and multi-modal approaches.

From an the airport perspective, Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe says “people cannot continue to presume that air traffic growth – and the economic benefits that come with it – can happen without a corresponding increase in airport capacity on the ground”. The organisation, which represents the interests of over 500 airports across 45 European countries, warns that a lack of airport capacity will result in EUR88.1 billion in foregone economic activity in Europe by 2040, due to unmet demand for air travel and reduced air connectivity.

“This isn’t something that should just be of concern to the industry – air transport is a vital component of many people’s lives. This should be of concern to everyone who values the unparalleled connectivity, mobility and prosperity that airports bring to their communities,” adds Mr Jankovec.

CHART – Existing airport capacity expansion plans, even if they can be delivered, are not sufficient to meet rising demand and will fall around 1.5 million flights short of the estimated capacity required by 2040Source: EuroControl’s European Aviation in 2040: Challenges of Growth 2018

The ‘Challenges of Growth’ report delivers three key findings:

  • Delivering current airport capacity plans is already a challenge, but they will fall 1.5 million flights short of demand. More capacity is needed at airports in 17 different States;
  • Even with 1.5 million flights lost to the capacity gap, a typical Summer day in 2040 will have 16 airports as congested as Heathrow is now. That will push total network delays to an average of 20 minutes per flight. It will be a challenge to provide an adequate quality of service, day in, day out in these circumstances;
  • Climate change will damage aviation infrastructure, alter patterns of passenger demand, and lead to more disruption of daily operations. Industry recognises the need for adaptation, but only half of organisations have begun to plan.

READ MORE – view the full report: EuroControl’s European Aviation in 2040: Challenges of Growth 2018