The European Commission has recognized that transport and its infrastructure is fundamental to the European economy and society. Therefore all of the European regions need to be fully and competitively integrated in the European, as well as world economy. This long term goal is ambitious, as today still considerable bottlenecks and barriers exist in the provision of access to European regions. Despite the bottlenecks mentioned, regional airports in Europe have an important role in the quality of access by air between the regions they serve and the rest of Europe (or even the world).

This study, commissioned by the Assembly of European Regions (AER) addresses how European regions are connected by air to other regions in Europe. It observes large differences between European regions, based on several distinguished regional and airport characteristics, like population density, GDP, low cost carrier (LCC) domination and airport size.

Regarding the opportunities and threats for the distinct types of region, there are especially economic opportunities for the lower GDP regions. The economic growth potential and, with that, the spin-off mechanism between economic development and air service increase is strongest in those regions.

In addition, LCC development is under pressure. Firstly, by taking over parts of the LCC business concept by full-service carriers and the inherent overall fare decrease. Secondly, by the possible increase of external costs (environmental as well as taxation costs). Both trends are to the disadvantage of LCC’s and the airports where they dominate. If, as a response, LCC’s decide to focus on the unserved high-end markets, low and medium density and GDP regions can be severely affected if LCC’s cut capacity in those regions as a result of this. Of those, the medium density and GDP regions will probably suffer most, as they depend most on LCC’s.

Hub rationalization of full service carriers may reduce the number of European hubs. Long-haul connections are at higher risk than short-haul connections, but if this trend is continues, possible overlaps in the European networks may also be rationalized. This is particularly affecting the lower GDP regions, as their connectivity is mainly depending on the smaller hubs. On the other hand, establishing direct connections with large hub airports can substantially increase a regional airport’s intra-European connectivity.

High-speed train networks can have negative impact on (ultra) short-haul airline networks, but can also function as a feeder network for existing and new (intra-European) airline operations. Finally, a more market oriented approach to face lacking airport capacity, such as the introduction of slot trading, will probably affect European connectivity of the larger hubs.