The future of regional airports: Challenges and opportunities

Briefing 26-02-2021

Regional airports are an important part of the aviation system in the European Union (EU). They are engines of socio-economic development and improve accessibility to certain locations, in particular those that are remote or not well served by other forms of transportation. They also have a vital role in terms of economic and social cohesion, stimulating tourism and employment, as well as facilitating access to essential services. In addition, they can help to reduce congestion at major hub airports. The Covid 19 pandemic has hit regional airports hard, especially those more dependent on passenger traffic, which has been more severely hit than cargo traffic. The situation is so difficult that without government support, many regional airports, which serve local communities, face the risk of insolvency. Meanwhile, the pandemic is putting airports under pressure to become more digital. Moreover, a greater focus on tackling climate change is driving various projects to make airports more sustainable. The recovery from the crisis is likely to take several years. It will depend on several factors, such as the duration and magnitude of the crisis, pace of vaccination and consumer confidence. The speed with which the economy recovers will also affect how long the recovery of air travel will take. All this requires support. The EU has taken steps to ensure that Member States can make full use of the flexibility allowed under State aid rules, to provide regional airports with support to overcome this unprecedented crisis. Since March 2020, the European Commission has approved numerous State aid schemes from which regional airports can benefit. The EU can also support airports through its Recovery and Resilience Facility, which aims at making Europe more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions.