Too many cooks spoil the broth. Can too many airports in a region spoil the air transport business for all? I am an advocate for free competition. In my opinion, it’s positive in most cases… up to a certain point. Too many airports in a region may be counterproductive. It could undermine the interests of air passengers.
Sometimes one single airport may serve the region better than several ones.
There are many regions in Europe where we can find many airports within a radius of less than 100 kilometers. Obviously, population density is the key to determine how many airports the region can sustain.
For example, in Italy, we can find 7 airports within the stretch of land in between Milan and Venice – less than 300 kilometers – This region is one the wealthiest and most densely populated in Europe. Bergamo, Milan-Linate and Venice-Marco Polo airports handle more than 8 million passengers per year, Verona and Treviso airports more than 2 million. Milan-Malpensa Airport, with more than 18 million passengers, provides world class international connections. Only Brescia Airport is not performing. As a result, passengers in the region enjoy a variety of options giving competition a healthy outcome.
This is not always the case. The Spanish Northwest Region of Galicia, with a population of less than 3 million people, has three airports within a radius of 80 kilometers. Two of them, La Coruna and Vigo airports, handle around 800.000 passengers per year. Santiago Airport is the only one handling more than 2 million passengers. More than one airport in a given region, with traffic figures below the million passenger mark, is an indication that there are too many airports.
Sometimes people would have access to more destinations if only one airport were serving the area. Paradoxically, the outcome of excess airport competition is that some potential destinations are not served. This is the case since none of the airports is capable of attracting enough traffic to guarantee a minimum payload rate for the airlines to make the destination profitable. As a result, local passengers are compelled to travel through intermediate airports to reach their final destination. In Galicia, people would have access to more destinations if Santiago Airport – the busiest and the one located in the center – were the only operational airport in the region. Direct flights to Paris or Rome, without traveling through Madrid, could become a reality.
Local authorities should be aware that minimum travel time from home to final destination – and not minimum driving time from home to the nearest airport – is what passengers want. Sometimes one single airport may serve the region better than three.