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Basque in the glory

Airlines and airports across Europe gathered in Spain's Basque Country to plan and negotiate future air services within the region. Keith Mwanalushi attended the event in Bilbao

The European Union (EU) market maintained a dynamic growth trajectory with passenger traffic increasing by 6.2% during the first quarter of this year according to figures from Airports Council Europe (ACI).  Some 14 EU national markets recorded double-digit growth – mostly in the Eastern and Southern parts of the bloc, along with Finland and Luxembourg.


Some large regional airports posted an impressive rise in passenger traffic, driven by particularly successful network development strategies, these include airports at Seville, Krakow and Naples. And its with strategy in mind that airlines and airports across Europe courted in typical Basque style at the 2018 instalment of Routes Europe.


The host, Bilbao Airport, welcomed more than 4.9 million passengers in 2017, a figure that is expected to rise again in 2018. In fact, low cost operator Volotea is developing four new routes to Vienna, Malta, Palermo and Malaga having inaugurated its new base in Bilbao during the course of the event. Industry experts explored the major challenges and opportunities for Europe’s aviation sector in a series of conference sessions, including, how Brexit will impact the aviation industry as Britain seeks to negotiate its exit from the EU, how terrorism is affecting tourism growth, and the rising dominance of low cost carriers in the European market.


Billund wins big


Of course, the airports were out in full force vying for a slice of that growing airline capacity. Billund Airport was one of the star attractions at the event having scooped the Routes Europe 2018 Marketing Award. The Danish gateway beat off competing airports from Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland to take the title in the under 4 million annual passenger category.


Last year Billund delivered its best ever results with 3.4 million passengers travelling through the gateway in 2017. “Last year was a really interesting year for us,” Jesper Klausholm, Billund Airport’s Head of Airline Relations and Marketing tells Low Cost & Regional Airline Business in Bilbao. The airport attracted new routes such as Berlin and Warsaw but more interestingly there has been significant growth in average load factors in Billund, simply because the economy of Denmark in booming and the demand for airline seats is high.


“We have seen a few new routes coming into Billund over the last few years and we are now seeing frequency and capacity on those routes maturing so the airlines are now building frequency on existing routes. That was the case last year and we actually had eight years of consecutive growth,” Klausholm explains.


Billund has a very balanced mix of airlines 25% of traffic is charter, 25% is low cost and about 50% is network and regional traffic, Klausholm notes. Over the last years the airport has seen steady growth in the low cost segment but particularly from the network carriers: “We have seen British Airways coming in from Heathrow and Finnair coming in from Helsinki and significant growth on Amsterdam and Frankfurt from KLM and Lufthansa, and Brussels Airlines has also grown the Brussels route significantly.”


Despite the growing links with the network airlines, low cost remains a vital segment for Billund Airport. “They, [LCCs] are equally important. Network carriers can provide us with global reach, for instance from Billund you can reach 540 destinations with one stop at one of these hubs but then the LCCs can also do something else. They especially bring in inbound passengers to western Denmark, so for tourism low cost is very important. When an airline like Wizz Air or Ryanair start a new route, they bring in a lot on inbound tourism so that’s really good for us.” >>


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