Post-COVID recovery: redefining the landscape for regional airports

This year’s Regional Airports’ Conference & Exhibition, organised by ACI Europe in Palermo from 29-30 March is entitled “After the darkness, building back better and greener”. To70 will attend this event, with Bruno Rampinelli Rota, MD To70 Italia, speaking to the conference’s delegates on Day One. Ahead of this, it is interesting to note how the post-COVID recovery is taking shape and what is affecting regional airports at the moment.

Some of the 2022 recovery in European flights is being affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February. EUROCONTROL’s traffic figures show a dip in flights (EUROCONTROL Data Snapshot #27, 16 March 2022). This sort of instability combined with the economic uncertainty due to the war’s effect on oil and fuel prices does not assist the recovery. Whilst much has been made of the costs of fuel and the longer routes needed to avoid Russia and Ukraine, EUROCONTROL notes that operators such as WizzAir have also experienced a sudden dip in demand. This sort of instability often affects commercial aviation, but we expect passenger numbers to recover once the current war ends.

Competitiveness

In the longer term, a number of the challenges that affect airports, indeed the whole aviation, are not directly related to the business. Issues around hiring and retaining staff are impacting businesses across the world and not just in aviation. Some regional airports have a larger problem than others in that their location limits the size of the employee market. If aviation services are not seen as attractive, then getting staffing levels right will be a challenge. Just throwing money at the problem will lead to pay inflation and will adversely affect the airport’s competitiveness. It should be remembered that competition often exists between regional airports in the form of the destinations – particularly, leisure ones – that operators choose to service. Whilst these issues are not new, they have been exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sustainability and efficiency

The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will not only have to address the societal pressure for increased sustainability, but it will also have to contend with the fact that many people see less need to travel following the rapid growth in the use of distance meetings, Teams, Zoom, et al. For airports, this means increased efficiency and lower emissions from their own facilities and activities.

To70 continues to focus on “building back greener” by looking at both carbon accreditation schemes and initiatives to generate carbon-free power, for example through the placing of solar panels at airports. Lowering emissions may also be achieved by the better insulation of terminal buildings.

When we think of efficiency at regional airports, the recent adoption of A-CDM procedures for these airports is timely. This was addressed in detail in one of our earlier blogs.

With such an aptly themed event, and as To70 continues to support airports, large and small, in their aims to become safer, greener and more efficient, I particularly look forward to next week’s presentations and discussions in Palermo.

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