Rome’s huge airport capacity expansion is questioned by new government

For some time now the capacity extension of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport has featured prominently in every report published by CAPA – Centre for Aviation on global airport construction.


Summary:

  • Italy’s new government wants to review a huge infrastructure project at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport as part of its make and mend policy for infrastructure;
  • But is it also a ‘regional affair’ now the Northern League is in power, even if only in another coalition?
  • A CAPA – Centre for Aviation report says Fiumicino is reported to be the recipient of the second-highest amount of capital expenditure on infrastructure in Europe;
  • In 2017 Rome’s two airports – Fiumicino and Ciampino – handled 46.9 million passengers, but faces strong competition for traffic from Milan.

The latest report says Fiumicino is reported to be the recipient of the second-highest amount of capital expenditure on infrastructure in Europe, after Turkey’s Istanbul New Airport – even more so than London Heathrow – across a timescale through to 2044. The amount in question is USD23.8 billion and it is directed towards terminal expansion and upgrades; apron and taxiway rehabilitation; a new terminal building; and a new runway.

The objective was to position Fiumicino as a primary global hub, in the same league as Heathrow, Amsterdam, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and, in southern Europe, Madrid. Sadly, Fiumicino has never really been in that league and isn’t really representative of the capital city of a country of 61 million people which has the third largest economy in the Euro zone, and the eighth in the world, even after its troubles.

TABLE – How does Rome Fiumicino compare with Europe’s largest airports (selected) by passenger numbers (2017) and total of non-stop passenger destinations (Oct-2018)?Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation Airport Profiles

Milan’s three airports are partly the reason for that, representing the secular, financial and business centre of the country while Rome concerns itself with religion and administration. In 2017 Rome’s two airports, Fiumicino and Ciampino, totalled 46.9 million passengers while Milan’s three (Malpensa, Linate and Bergamo) collectively saw 44 million.

With the failings and ongoing uncertainty over Alitalia, neither has it become a hub to the same degree either as the far right column in the table above reveals.

It is the failure of the economy, the ridiculously high level of public debt (131% of GDP in 2017) and the consequential rise of the so-called ‘populist’ parties in Italy as much as anything else that has done for these grandiose schemes at Fiumicino. GDP managed to claw its way back to +1.5% growth in 2017 but it is expected to fall again throughout this year.

Italy has had a fragmented political system with many short-lived coalition governments since the end of World War 2 with no less than 61 separate ones during that time. Anti-austerity and anti-immigration parties have flourished in recent years.

In the Mar-2018 general election the centre-right coalition, led by Matteo Salvini’s right-wing Lega (the Northern League), which has its roots in central and northern Italy, not in Rome, emerged with a plurality, or relative majority, of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, while the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) became the party with the largest number of votes.

A coalition was finally formed on 01-Jun-2018 between the M5S and the League, whose leaders both became Deputy Prime Ministers in a government led by the M5S-linked independent Giuseppe Conte as Prime Minister.

In the circumstances it is perhaps not surprising that the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Danilo Toninelli said the government will revise the previous government’s plans to double capacity at Fiumicino Airport. The coalition‘s brief is not to build any new infrastructure where the existing one can be patched and mended. However, that policy was thrown into confusion by the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa on 14-Aug-2018, with suggestions of inadequate maintenance.

The acid test will be if the proposed but forgotten ‘Europe 1’, a EUR15 billion green field airport between Brescia and Verona in the north and spearheaded by the Chinese private equity concern Sixiang Holding was suddenly to get the go-ahead. That is very firmly in the north. And while Fiumicino is almost entirely private-sector owned now, ‘Europe 1’ would be a brand new airport backed by private funds.