Demand for flights has recently spiked, and this resurgence in flight numbers and passengers has put unbelievable pressure on airports at a time when staffing shortages are rife. Do regional airports offer a solution to some of the problems that the aviation industry faces?
Regional airports feed hubs and provide point-to-point connections across shorter distances than their international counterparts. As transit nodes, they are capable of enabling economic activity and expansion by connecting people, products, and services to wider markets. But how do they do that, and why is it so important?
Before we go any further, let’s quickly define what a regional airport is. The general rule (though it’s not set in stone) is that an airport should be classified as regional if it primarily serves short and medium-range routes and mostly serves point-to-point destinations. Now that’s covered, let’s dive a little deeper into what makes regional airports so important.
A shortage of staff in large airports because of fallout post-Covid is front and center in the minds of airline and airport operators everywhere. The crisis we now see plaguing aviation is due to widespread staff shortages caused by workers being forced to find jobs in other industries and now not wanting to return.
We can’t pretend that local airports aren’t struggling with this, particularly in smaller countries like the Netherlands, where many airports are a 30-minute drive from one another and therefore share a talent pool. However, because they aren’t as busy as major international airports like Schiphol they are coping better with lower staff levels.
From a passenger perspective, regional airports are able to provide a much better service because they aren’t dealing with the high volumes of people you find in big airports. People don’t want the stress of Schipol, Heathrow, or LAX. We see the trend locally, where people in the east of the Netherlands use regional German airports instead of traveling to Schiphol. You get a better service from security and check-in, traveling from the car park doesn’t have to be a 30 minute bus ride – it’s just much more pleasant.
For some, it goes beyond comfort and has become a necessity of life. Whether it’s the outer isles of Scotland or Norway, airports in these remote areas enable access to vital services like health and education, as well as local businesses to connect locals to travel with travel options for work and pleasure. For these people, there are simply no other viable options than regular flights. Even if the frequency of them isn’t high, providing they’re well timetabled, they’ll usually be more than full enough to be commercially viable for small operators.
It is fascinating to see how many rural airports have seen tremendous growth over the past few years as a result of the liberalization of air traffic rights across Europe and the advent of new low-cost airlines.
There is a rule though that when you have capacity available for flights, you can’t discriminate between airlines. But what you can do is increase the tariffs for certain types of aircraft. This means for more polluting or louder aircraft, you can charge more to cut down on the environmental impact.
As these sorts of regulations become more stringent, regional airports are going to be well-placed to support travel with smaller, less polluting aircraft.
There are other potential environmental benefits to having regional airports more prominent in the aviation industry. For instance, and using the example of the Netherlands again, if you were to move flights away from Schiphol, so that it could focus more on its transfers, then you would reduce the concentration of noise and pollutant emissions in that area.
Of course, the natural response to that is, surely you’re just spreading it thinner over more of the Netherlands?”. In short, yes, but only if the aviation industry doesn’t continue to innovate. Let us explain. We must first develop aircraft that fly more quietly and emit fewer pollutants – that much is obvious. There are two popular paths that aircraft designers and manufacturers are focusing on.
The first is innovative propulsion systems for traditional aircraft. There are many companies looking into things like battery, hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft that are significantly better for the environment and the people who live in it.
Another emerging technology is Electric Vertical-Takeoff-and-Landing vehicles (eVTOLs), which have the potential to be a reasonably quiet and environmentally friendly means of transportation that can be effective over short and medium length flights – perfect for regional airports.
A Final Thought From The EU
To close this out, we’ll answer the question from the start with a quote from the European Parliament:
“Regional airports are an important part of the aviation system in the European Union (EU). They are engines of socio-economic development and improve accessibility to certain locations, in particular those that are remote or not well served by other forms of transportation.
They also have a vital role in terms of economic and social cohesion, stimulating tourism and employment, as well as facilitating access to essential services. In addition, they can help to reduce congestion at major hub airports.”
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