Press release

European aviation facing serious capacity challenges now and in the future

European aviation is seeing high levels of delay this year as the network struggles to cope with record levels of traffic. A new EUROCONTROL study – Challenges of Growth – finds that without urgent action, the network will be unable to cope with the demand for flights predicted by 2040.

Brussels, Belgium - At the ACI General Assembly held in Brussels today, Eamonn Brennan, Director General of EUROCONTROL, addressed the capacity challenges faced by European aviation in 2018 and in the future.

His keynote address underlined that the first five months of 2018 have seen much higher delays than in recent years. Traffic has increased by 3.4% (compared to the same period in 2017) but en-route Air Traffic Flow Management delays have risen dramatically from 0.46 minutes per flight to 1.05 minutes per flight. 28% of this delay was attributed to disruptive events (such as strikes) and 27% to weather. However, 45% was attributed to staffing/capacity issues, notably in Germany, France and the Low Countries.

At the event, Eamonn Brennan announced the publication of EUROCONTROL’s latest Challenges of Growth study, which looks at the issues European aviation will face between now and 2040. He stated:

“Europe is already struggling to cope with the levels of traffic this year. Our most likely scenario predicts a growth of 1.9% a year between now and 2040. That means 16.2 million flights a year. But it could be as much as 19.5 million flights a year under our highest growth scenario. On our most likely scenario, there won’t be enough capacity for approximately 1.5 million flights or 160 million passengers in 2040. This kind of report is crucial for policy makers as they prepare for the future. Clearly this is a long-term forecast so we do have time to address the issues it raises but providing more capacity, and especially on this scale, requires long-term planning. Therefore I think we need to address the issue as a matter of urgency.”

The most likely scenario set out in the report (1.9% growth/year) shows an increase of 53% in flights by 2040 – to 16.2 million a year. However, there are significant upside risks for this forecast and it may well be that the increase is as high as 84%.

Four countries will each see more than three thousand additional flights per day (the United Kingdom, Turkey, France and Germany). Even though airports are expanding their capacity plans, with the top 20 airports planning to add 2.4 million runway movements, this will not be enough. On the most likely scenario, 1.5 million flights – 160 million passengers – will be unable to fly by 2040.

Many airports will become much busier, with higher delays. The study estimates that by 2040, 16 airports will be highly congested operating at close to capacity for much of the day (up from 6 airports today). As a result of this congestion the number of passengers delayed by 1 to 2 hours will grow from around 50,000 each day now to around 470,000 a day in 2040.

Aside from building additional runways, the study looks at how additional airport capacity can be delivered through other means. These include technology innovation, schedule smoothing, using larger aircraft and multi-modal approaches.

Other topics covered in the study include the impact of climate change and the expected rise in unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.

“The Challenges of Growth studies are an immensely valuable forecast and this latest edition is no exception. This latest edition is very clear - people cannot continue to presume that air traffic growth - and the economic benefits that come with it - can happen without a corresponding increase in airport capacity on the ground. As we stand, the lack of airport capacity will result in €88.1bn in foregone economic activity in Europe by 2040, due to unmet demand for air travel and reduced air connectivity. This isn’t something that should just be of concern to the industry – air transport is a vital component of many people’s lives. This should be of concern to everyone who values the unparalleled connectivity, mobility and prosperity that airports bring to their communities.” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE.

The Challenges of growth report is available now.

For further information please contact:

Kyla Evans

Note to editors

Background to the Challenges of Growth studies - The dual aim behind the Challenges of Growth studies is to deliver the best-achievable information to support long-term planning in Europe and to raise awareness of the scale of future needs if aviation is to meet demand. Traffic variability over the last ten years shows that we have to consider a range of possible futures in order to manage risk: no one single forecast could hope to include all the likely risks.

After a stakeholder review, four scenarios were selected and studied for this release of the Challenges of Growth. General consensus is that the most likely is the one labelled “Regulation and Growth”, which sees moderate growth regulated to reconcile demand with environmental sustainability issues.

EUROCONTROL, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, has as its primary objective to develop a seamless, pan-European air traffic management (ATM) system that fully copes with the growth in air traffic, while maintaining a high level of safety, reducing costs and respecting the environment. EUROCONTROL has 41 Member States: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Republic of North Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. EUROCONTROL has Comprehensive Agreements with the Kingdom of Morocco and the State of Israel.

ACI EUROPE represents over 500 airports in 45 European countries. Their members facilitate over 90% of commercial air traffic in Europe: 2 billion passengers, 20 million tonnes of freight and 23.7 million aircraft movements in 2016. These airports contribute to the employment of 12.3 million people, generating €675 billion each year – 4.1% of GDP in Europe. Based in Brussels, ACI EUROPE leads and serves the European airport industry and maintains strong links with other Airport Council International regions throughout the world.

The Challenges of Growth project team was helped by many in the aviation industry who supported the project by providing information and informed comments. In particular, DG MOVE and ACI EUROPE provided expert encouragement and advice. The STATFOR User Group helped review and refine the scenarios.