Intra-European air travel has almost tripled during 25 years of the Internal Market for Aviation

With European aviation facing new competitive challenges in the rapidly evolving global market, the European Union is working to develop a sustainable future aviation strategy, a milestone initiative to generate growth for European business, foster innovation and let passengers profit from safer, cleaner and cheaper flights, while offering more connections.

European airlines can be restricted in their ability to access markets outside the EU and gain from the  clear economic benefits of aviation. European studies show a 10% increase in the supply of intercontinental flights results in a 4% increase in the number of headquarters of large firms. A similar 10% increase of departing passengers in a metropolitan region increases the employment in the services sector of that region by 1%, while a general 10% increase in air traffic equals an increase of 0.5% of GDP per capita.

While the EU looks ahead and starts negotiating new EU-level agreements with several countries and regions in the world to improve market access, providing more connections and better prices for passengers, it can look back at a quarter of a century of aviation policy that has revolutionised air travel within the Continent.

This year marks 25 years since the EU’s Internal Market for Aviation was born and a policy that made an indelible impact on air connectivity within Europe. Statistics shows that today, air travel is cheaper, safer and open to more people than ever before and much of the credit can be placed at the EU initiative to replace a series of national rules by a single set of EU rules, and from the EU Internal Market for Aviation back in 1992.

One of the tangible benefits that the EU policy has brought to its citizens is air connectivity. The growth in EU aviation over the past quarter of a century has been phenomenal. Allowing competition brought major changes to air travel – changes that have propelled European mobility forward, successfully helping to bring Europeans closer together, and providing solid foundations for more jobs and a growing economy. The idea of travelling and experiencing new places and cultures has become a reality for many people in Europe during the past 25 years as a new era in air travel was born.

“Hundreds of millions of people have benefited from air travel thanks to the bold decision to liberalise the aviation market 25 years ago,” says Henrik Hololei, director general for mobility and transport, European Commission. “It has opened up new opportunities and positively changed lives.”

Creating the Internal Market removed barriers to competition. Before its launch competition was low and prices were sky-high. A last minute getaway or a weekend city trip with friends could only be dreamed of for many Europeans. Today, thanks to the wider choice of travel, offered by more airlines competing on the market, flying has become more affordable! The dream of flying turned into a reality for people right across the EU.

CHART: European Network Capacity (weekly seats)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG Schedules Analyser

Michael O’Leary, chief executive officer, Ryanair describes the aviation single market as “the stand-out achievement of the EU” over the last 25 years and has “lowered airfares and enabled citizens to travel freely all over Europe”. Carolyn McCall, chief executive officer, easyJet agrees and says the policy “democratised air travel” for all. “easyJet was born from the opening of Europe’s skies by the EU which democratised air travel for all. Since then fares have plummeted and the range of destinations has soared, enabling people to more easily live, work and holiday across Europe,” she adds.

Today there are almost eight times as many routes as there were in 1992, giving more choice to the consumer, and ensuring more places are connected regularly. A good example is Dublin Airport, where the number of intra-EU routes has grown from just 36 in 1992 to 127 in 2016.

CHART: Largest European Airports (weekly seats)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG Schedules Analyser

From the airport’s perspective the EU’s Internal Market for Aviation has enabled facilities to become “real economic drivers, equally serving national and European interests,” notes Jost Lammers, chief executive officer, Budapest Airport, and has played a vital role in supporting airports across the whole continent, according to Thomas Woldbye, chief executive officer, Copenhagen Airport, who describes it as “vital” for Denmark. “Our open economy depends on easy accessibility to Europe and the world – for business, leisure, education and knowledge exchange,” he says.

Consumer demand has driven the continued expansion of new routes. In 2015 for example, almost 920 million passengers passed through 450 EU Airports, which is nearly three times more than in 1992. In addition, smaller regional airports continue to expand, buoyed by low-fare point-to-point air services and helping ensure balanced economic growth across all parts of the EU.