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Aviation – Do smaller regional airports have a future?

Six airports are in operation in a 175-kilometre radius surrounding Luxembourg, giving Luxembourgers their pick of airports. But how are these airports staying relevant?

The Interregional Parliamentary Council organised a conference on the future of regional airports, inviting the directors of all six airports located in the Greater Region. Ostensibly, the focus of the conference was to discuss the challenges facing regional airports and affront the question of whether regional airports even have a future in a world increasingly witnessing the effects of climate change.

Of the six airports in the Greater Region, most have found their niche and exploited it. Both Liege and Luxembourg Airports have become hugely significant in air cargo transport, with Luxembourg Airport also being a busy passenger hub. Brussels-Charleroi has forged a name for itself as an airport for low-cost airlines, whilst Metz-Nancy has found its speciality in offering quick flights to Northwest Africa.

The German airports, namely Saarbrucken and Frankfurt-Hahn have been struggling to find their focus recently. The challenges the German airports are facing do however apply to the other airports as well. Mainly, more politicians are pointing towards airplanes as being a key cause of climate change due to the CO2 emissions wrought by planes.

More broadly, airport directors worry how far the European Commission will continue to limit open funding for airports, in turn reducing the survival rates of regional airlines. Added to the issue is that these regional and smaller airlines are unable to compete with the monopolising players in the aviation industry, especially without subsidies.

In Luxembourg, the answer remains clear in one regard – Findel continues to be viewed as both economically and politically important. However, the question of climate change is one that cannot be avoided. MP Mars di Bartolomeo, a member of the council, stressed that Luxembourg’s move to make the climate a priority has to apply to all sectors, and all political areas. As Di Bartolomeo explained, the government must be consistent in its climate approach, and for the aviation industry, this means turning to the CO2 tax.

Economically, airports contribute massively to regional growth and prosperity, with connections to other areas seen as an economic magnet. For instance, an airline raising its connections by 10% will see that same 10% mirrored as a 0.5% increase to the region’s GDP.

Going back to the issue of pressures on smaller airlines, the conference highlighted the need for airlines willing to invest in regional destinations. The trend currently is to emphasis aircraft equipped for middle and long-haul flights. As a result, regional airlines are under a lot of pressure, which is only increasing. The impact of this pressure remains clear examining Germany as a case study – Lufthansa has reduced its planned growth over the past few years and 15 regional airlines have closed down in the past ten years.

The issue remains, as Luxairport’s director pointed out, that direct flights are massively in demand and how exactly do the regional airports and airlines reconcile this demand with a drive for affordable costs and increasing pressure on the environmental side.

Exploring the future of the regional aviation industry, the conference focused on questions such as how expensive flying might be in 20 years and whether short-haul flights will have been phased out, thus putting the existence of these regional airports in doubt. Some of the solutions mentioned at the conference include smaller electric planes, fitted for around 20 passengers. Airbus, for instance, is exploring this option and hopes to have introduced such flights in the next 15 to 20 years.


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