According to EuroControl, almost two million flights in Europe alone will not be accommodated due to airport capacity congestion by 2035. Twenty airports in Europe will face similar congestion levels as those faced by Heathrow airport today.
Some of Europe’s busiest airports are already operating at full capacity. Many still have some spare slots during off-peak hours, but are struggling with serious congestion levels for early morning departures and evening arrivals. As a result, capacity constraints are generating delays, unreliability, and even cancellations due to one-off unexpected events.
Today’s chronic inaction is crippling Europe’s air transport—and its economy—for all.
Despite these gloomy figures, little is being done. The challenges faced by airport expansion enthusiasts in Europe are overwhelming. Dublin airport’s second runway was parked when the economic crisis hit. New Nantes airport remains a sour battlefield for French politics and local communities. The Portuguese Prime Minister scuttled the Novo Aeroporto of Lisbon in 2010.
The England Southeast region case is paradigmatic. SE England remains one of the best-connected regions in the world. The Heathrow hub’s dominant position remains—so far—unchallenged among European hubs. Nevertheless, runway capacity crunch in the region is around the corner. This is well known by the industry.
In the meantime, politicians have been discussing, debating, arguing, pondering, deliberating, contesting and putting airport expansion projects on hold time and again over past decades. All sorts of commissions have issued countless papers and reports recommending new runways here and there. Even a brand new airport in the Thames estuary—Boris Island—has been considered. So far, nothing has been done. One election or another is always lurking around not far on the horizon. As a result, a new runway in SE England still remains on the to-do list.
European air transport needs decisive action. Action is vital, action may cause a few blunders, it may even attract some criticism, nevertheless, today’s chronic inaction is crippling Europe’s air transport—and its economy—for all. Football players know that you can only score a goal by kicking the ball. If you can’t, then it would be better if you sat in the bleachers… and watched.