Eurocontrol’s research (2013) showed that the current reduction in traffic growth is driven by economics, not by saturation of the air transport market. When confidence and economic growth return, demand is expected to grow again. Although exact forecasts differ, Boeing, Airbus and Eurocontrol all predict the European aviation market to grow, yet more slowly than historical rates. Boeing (2014) predicts worldwide airline traffic (RPK), cargo traffic (RTK), number of passengers and number of aircraft to increase annually by 5.0%, 4.7%, 4.2% and 3.6% respectively till 2033. Likewise, Airbus’ (2014) latest traffic forecast suggest that the world RPKs will double by 2033, representing a 4.7% yearly average growth over the next twenty years. On the other hand, Eurocontrol (2013) reports a conservative prediction for the year 2035, expecting 1.5 times the number of flights in Europe compared to 2012, corresponding to an average increase of 1.8% per year and a total of 14.4 million flights. Overall, traffic forecasts expect worldwide and European aviation demand and traffic to grow.
Airport capacity challenges
Current airport capacity is insufficient to accommodate the above mentioned future traffic growth (Bellamy III, 2013). According to Eurocontrol (2013), the planning, finance and delivery of airport capacity expansions are challenged by the limited access to funding, reduced ability to finance through airport revenues, and the absence of an immediate sense of urgency for airport congestion. As a result, the sum of capacity expansion plans have reduced to increasing the total aviation capacity from 38% to a mere 17% (Eurocontrol, 2013). This equals the cancellation and/or adjournment of more than half of the capacity expansion plans. In the most likely forecast scenario of 2035, 1.9 million flights will not be accommodated within the plans that airports have reported (Eurocontrol, 2013). This equals to 12% of total demand and an estimated 120 million passengers unable to use air travel to get to their desired destination (ACI, 2013).
By that time, an estimated 120 million passengers will be unable to use air travel to get to their desired destination
The inability to accommodate future traffic growth and the consequent congestion at European airports will most likely result in delays and reduced future network performance. The future level of congestion will result in difficulties accommodating minor deviations from plans, and delays will accumulate rapidly. Eurocontrol (2013) estimated that, by 2035, more than 20 airports will be operating at over 80% of the capacity limit for 6 or more hours per day, compared to 3 airports in 2012. The average delay per flight is predicted to increase from 1.12 minutes in 2012, to 5.6 minutes in 2035. It should be mentioned that in current-day operations, it is very rare to see days with an average of 5 minute delay per flight. In conclusion, the growth of traffic introduces opportunities for all aviation stakeholders. However, innovative solutions and policies must be developed to properly manage the European aviation capacity challenges.
Need for a robust and flexible policy
The aviation sector is governed by a series of well-established and detailed international, European and national laws, regulations and standards in the areas of safety and security. These have arisen in response to concerns over the protection of scarce resources, choice, value, sustainability and safety for consumers and the general public (ICAO, 2014; EASA 2014; Wet Luchtvaart, 1992). The Dutch government alone cannot provide choice, value or sustainability, as it has little to no involvement in, or control over, the management of the industry (i.e. building airports or operating airlines). Therefore, the Dutch government has a real but limited role in contributing to the development of the aviation sector, in cooperation with multiple stakeholders. The future aviation industry will be shaped by multiple decisions of the aviation sector’s supply chain stakeholders. A robust policy framework is needed to sends credible signals concerning the long-term direction of policy that helps to align decisions in a way that is consistent with a common strategic direction (CAA, 2011). The more effective the Dutch government is in generating policy stability, the more robust the policy framework, and the more effective investment signals to industry will be.
Aviation has always been a driver and a reflector of significant changes. Technological progress has resulted in safer, quieter and more efficient aircraft (Penner et al., 1999, ICAO, 2010). International regulation has changed too, with the liberalization of the European aviation market bringing many benefits to consumers (Barrett, 1992; Marín, 1995; Stasinopoulos, 1992). These and other cultural and socio-economic changes have led to changing expectations; on the one hand generating greater demand for travel, and on the other reducing society’s tolerance of some of the less welcome outputs of aviation such as aircraft noise and CO2. A sector’s future success depends on the degree to which it is able to innovate and adapt to these changing environments, so that it keeps on meeting the changing needs of its stakeholders (Morgan, 2012; Day, 2011). The ability to cope with trends in consumer behaviour and wider developments is therefore a key success criterion for an effective policy framework with appropriate capacity definitions. Policy and definitions that are framed too rigidly may facilitate an industry that is not prepared for future challenges, and might fail miserably because of a lack in credibility and the inability to embody and influence changes in behaviour (CAA, 2011). To conclude: the Dutch government and aviation industry need a robust policy framework, including its definitions, that is flexible enough to adapt as the sector and the challenges it faces evolve.
There is a need for a robust policy framework that is flexible enough to adapt as the sector and the challenges it faces evolve
Founded in December 2006, the Alders Platform is a consultation body led by former Minister of Housing, Land-use Planning and the Environment, Hans Alders (Alderstafel, 2014). The Alder Platform advises the Dutch Government concerning the development of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in conjunction with Lelystad Airport and Eindhoven Airport. Members of the consultation body – the government, the aviation sector, local authorities and residents – aim to balance the quality of the aviation network and the quality of the living environment in the surrounding areas.
In October 2008, based on the economic environment, increasing fuel prices, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol’s cost structure and an expected aviation sector growth of 2-3%, the Alders Platform concluded that demand in the Dutch aviation industry will be sufficient to accommodate 580.000 air traffic movements per year in 2020 (Alders, 2008). New decisions concerning rules for runway and route usage, capacity and traffic in the Netherlands should comply with the equivalence criteria. The equivalence criteria ensures that a change in the rules for these capacity related aspects would result in an equally good or better protection level for the environment, including the quality of life for the residents (Vinkx, 2007). The expected demand in the Dutch aviation industry cannot be accommodated within the equivalence criteria (Alders, 2008). As a result, the maximum airport capacity at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is currently operationalized by a discrete value in terms of air traffic movements, based on an environmental constraint: the maximum amount of air traffic movements per year in 2020 at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is set at 510.000.
The maximum amount of air traffic movements per year in 2020 at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is set at 510.000
As the capacity at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is set at a discrete value in terms of air traffic movements, the capacity definition used by the Alders Platform is very robust. The number of air traffic movements at airports can easily be measured, clearly defining the maximum airport capacity available. However, it is far from flexible. Alders (2008) based the current capacity limit at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on environmental constraints, assuming physical infrastructure capacity at the airport would be sufficient. Defining airport capacity by maximum hourly runway movements does not cover all limiting elements. Changes and trends in environment and behaviour might cause a change in the limiting factor. Other factors that also play a role in the total available airport capacity, in line with Boosten & Mujica Mota (2011), must be taken into account. Therefore, the definition used by Alders is outdated. There is need for renewal, making it possible to adapt to changes in the environment. The Dutch government needs an aviation regulatory framework and aviation capacity definition that is both robust and flexible.