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Growing momentum

With the spike in traffic at European airports not limited to the major gateways, Keith Mwanalushi finds that at smaller airports, too, the numbers are picking up

The Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has disclosed that passenger traffic across the European airport network grew by +8.5% in 2017. Both the return of a growth dynamic in the non-EU market and the continued expansion of passenger volumes in the EU contributed to this performance.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe said that 2017 marked the best year for European airports since 2004, when air traffic was boosted by the accession of 10 countries to the EU – the single largest expansion of the bloc. “That parallel is quite something when you consider the current climate includes Brexit and all its uncertainties,” Jankovec noted.

When the glamorous major gateways like Heathrow and Schiphol are moved aside, several smaller players come into the fray. Riga International Airport (RIX) in Latvia is the largest air traffic hub in the Baltics. The 16 airlines operating at the airport fly to over 60 destinations. The airport saw full year passenger numbers reach six million in 2017, that’s up 12.9% compared to 2016.

Analysing last year's data, Ilona Līce, Chairperson of the Board of Riga International Airport, said a strategically important increase was the number of transit passengers, which peaked in December last year, rising by almost 40%. The average share of transit passengers last year accounted for 29%, an increase of more than 20% as compared to 2016, according to the airport’s data.

“The number of direct passengers also grew by 11.6%. The aviation industry is developing in the entire region,” commented Līce. London, Moscow and Frankfurt were the most popular destinations in 2017. RIX recorded almost 20 new destinations last year.

Several airlines have announced new services for this year in 2018, notably home carrier airBaltic. In January alone, the Latvian carrier transported 233,334 passengers, 24% more than it did the previous year. This figure represents the best performing January in the airline’s history.

airBaltic will launch a new summer seasonal route between Riga and Almaty in Kazakhstan at the end of April 2018 – the first such link from Northern Europe.

In 2018 and beyond, RIX will continue the development of the terminal building, expanding the passenger check-in hall, the baggage claim and sorting areas, security controls area, as well as constructing of a multi-storey car park and connection to the Rail Baltica Riga Airport station.

In Scandinavia, Denmark’s Billund Airport reported all-time highs in both passenger and cargo traffic for 2017, welcoming 284,000 more passengers than in the previous year. This resulted in a total of 3.4 million passengers travelling through west Denmark’s busiest gateway in 2017. Cargo volumes also peaked record levels handling 73,000 tonnes, a 9% year-on-year increase.

Billund’s international traffic rose by a noteworthy 13.8%: “Our international routes have created significant growth over the last few years, with 2017 being no exception,” explained Kjeld Zacho Jørgensen, CEO, Billund Airport. “Our core catchment embraces seven major west Danish cities and the overall progression in the economy in our area has been evident over the last 12 months. Our strong customer base is taking advantage of our expanding route network and cementing Billund’s position as west Denmark’s international airport,” added Jørgensen.

Billund has already lined up an additional five new routes and one new airline to maintain the airport’s progression in 2018. Kick-starting the summer season, Wizz Air will commence the airport’s first direct connection to Iaşi, the second largest city in Romania, with a twice-weekly service from the end of April.

The Hungarian ultra low cost carrier also launched the highly desired link to Vienna. The last 10 years have seen a steady year-on-year increase of indirect traffic to the Austrian capital city, with 2017 recording an all-time high of 350,000 Danes visiting Austria, the airport accounted.

Later this summer, Billund will add two new connections to Athens as Ryanair commences a weekly service from 15 May. Primera Air also plans to launch a weekly connection to the Greek capital city from 23 May.  >>

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