Editorial: Small and regional is beautiful (and very challenging)

By Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI EUROPE

Olivier Jankovic

The extraordinarily pessimistic times currently befalling the global economy have seen many comparing the current situation with the infamous great depression of the 1930s. For aviation and airports in particular, the analogy fails to deliver any direct relevance. Back then, all airports were rather small with craftsmanship-style operations – and throughout the turmoil, they all seemed to keep a mix of glamour and untapped possibilities.

Indeed, the role of airports as enablers of economic development had yet to reveal itself, and it took quite a while before their full potential would start to unleash. For decades, regulation of the most restrictive sort kept airports in some kind of dark age, constraining their development and limiting their role to mere infrastructure providers exclusively focused on their national flag carrier.

The ongoing wave of aviation liberalisation that started at the end of the 1980’s coupled with the EU enlargement process have finally changed the rules of the game. This has proved beneficial for all airports, with small and regional ones becoming the most dynamic segment of our sector in the past 10 years. With traffic at these airports growing by a staggering 52% between 2002 and 2007, their role in defining the economic agenda of their communities and the regions they serve has become an essential one. Nowadays, the ambitions of any European region are reflected in the airport upon which it relies for being connected to markets worldwide. Beyond local impact, small and regional airports have also contributed to European cohesion on a very large scale.

But if being small and regional is beautiful, it is also very challenging, even more so in the present environment. The dependence on just one or two airlines ready to go away at the blink of an eye has always meant operating on the edge. Moreover, like the rest of our sector, small and regional airports are now faced with what looks set to become an unprecedented fall in air traffic. Although the emerging picture remains contrasted with some still growing, the vast majority is being hit by the sharpest traffic decreases in the industry.

ACI EUROPE has taken bold steps to support small and regional airports with the creation of SMAG and their increased involvement in the governance of the association. Now in its third year and celebrating its second annual conference in Linz this March, SMAG is making an essential contribution to the work of ACI EUROPE in terms of policy and advocacy as well as exchange of know-how and expertise. Therefore, it seems only fitting that this edition of Airport Business be devoted to SMAG with a group interview of the chiefs of 3 small and regional airports. Although these men come from different corners of Europe and work within diverse airport business models, they have much in common, including a defiant sense of possibility when looking at the future. This is indeed a very reassuring indication of the role that airports can and want to play in the economic recovery.

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