By 2030, climate change and a lack of airport capacity will mean that one flight in two will risk delays or cancellation at highly-congested airports, according to a new EUROCONTROL report.
The study, Challenges of Growth, finds that even taking the economic downturn into account, demand for flights in Europe will rise from 10 million today to 20.4 million in 2030. Airports are working to make the most of their capacity and expand to meet demand, but on current plans, they will only be able to handle 18.1 million of those flights, leaving 2.3 million flights a year or 6,300 flights a day unaccommodated. As a result, airport congestion is set to rise substantially - by 2030, around 20 of the largest airports will be saturated, that is operating at full capacity, for 8 hours or more a day. About half of every day's flights will pass through one of these saturated airports. 'Despite the economic downturn and a prospect of slower growth in the future - because of maturing European markets and higher fuel-related costs - demand in the longer term is still set to rise substantially,' said David Marsh, Manager of Forecasting and Statistics at EUROCONTROL. 'As a result, airports are going to run out of space - and with half of each day's flights going through one of the saturated airports, a small delay at one airport could rapidly escalate to infect the whole European air network.' The risk of delay will be higher too, because weather-related delays are likely to be more common. Aviation has been working hard to understand and reduce its impact on the environment. Now, for the first time, EUROCONTROL is looking at the reverse effect: the likely impact of climate change on air traffic. Bouts of extreme weather will occur more frequently and probably be more severe, bringing further disruption to already saturated airports. And as higher temperatures become the norm across Europe, holiday patterns are likely to change. While airlines will be able to change their routes to cope with this, airports, which require substantial infrastructure, are not so flexible. 'Prosperity in Europe relies on the smooth movement of people and goods, and the air transport industry has a key role to play in this. Whatever capacity can be delivered at airports, the outlook is for a heavily-congested future. Thanks to climate change, demand may be elsewhere than today. We need to start thinking of an agile air transport network, one that brings together people and technology so that it can react effectively both as the day's events unfold and as demand changes by the year, unencumbered by the twentieth-century concerns of national borders: a real Single European Sky, an agile pan-European system, if we are to cope with the challenges of the future, David Marsh added. The summary report is available at www.eurocontrol.int/statfor.