Posted on: 05 December 2018 by Chloe Greenbank
The sun was certainly smiling as Regional Gateway magazine made its debut earlier this week at AviaDev’s inaugural European networking event at the Palacio de Congresos in Valencia, Spain.
Exploring the theme ‘Regional is rising’, the event provided a networking platform for Europe’s regional airports to entice airlines to their runways. Meetings were complemented by conferencing sessions which explored growth in the market as well as the challenges and opportunities faced by Europe’s regional airports and airlines.
The big picture
Olivier Jager, co-founder and CEO, ForwardKeys – specialists in global travel intelligence, opened panel discussions declaring that “intra-European travel is growing fast.” He also declared that “regional aviation is an essential component in the overall equation of air travel.”
With the rise of long-haul, low-cost air travel continuing to fuel discussion throughout the industry, Jager cited “improved and next generation aircraft” as one of the factors behind this growth. However, he also warned that as passenger traffic continues to increase and airports are accelerating their capacity expansion programmes, the infrastructure related capacity gap is a huge concern across the industry. “There simply won’t be enough capacity for the anticipated 1.5 million flights, or 160 million passengers forecast in 2040.”
With a real risk that Europe’s aviation network won’t be able to cope with demand, targeting the right passengers will be key for the future success of the industry Jager concluded, saying: “Finding a way to target the right travellers will become an essential component of the joint approach of the industry, which includes tourist boards, airports and airlines working together.”
Miguel Oliver, Air Nostrum’s network planning and scheduling director, reiterated this message of collaboration saying: “Airports have to work alongside tourism authorities and other stakeholders to understand passengers’ reasons for flying there and then tailor their offer to those airlines they want to attract.”
Opportunities for regional aviation
Zdenek Komenda, chief business development officer at Kiwi.com, explained how interlining (an agreement between airlines to handle passengers travelling on itineraries that require multiple flights on more than one carrier) can help airports gain more transfer passengers, reach a larger catchment area, generate additional revenue and increase brand awareness.
Big data and data predictive analysis will also provide an opportunity for the regional aviation sector to become more profitable and better serve travel needs. Meanwhile Manish Shrivastara, co-founder Travel Commerce Solutions, reiterated the need to use technology appropriately. “Ultimately, it’s the customer who pays, so airports and airlines need to think about how they communicate with their passengers and how better to use technology in order to do so. It’s about creating a seamless passenger experience.”
AviaDev’s Gerard Brown threw down a gauntlet during his panel discussion on ‘working closely with stakeholders’. He suggested that airports are really just “big car parks” and not the final destination and it’s about selling the attributes of the city and surrounding region, not the airport.
He argued that Europe’s most successful regional airports were those that had embraced the advantages of the stakeholder approach.
Cardiff Airport’s commercial director, Spencer Birns, strengthened this message pointing out that: “If the market isn’t right, airlines won’t fly there. So, we as an airport have to work with all the relevant parties in our community to make sure the market is right.”
He also highlighted that it’s important not to apply a one-size-fits-all approach. “If we’re targeting a low-cost carrier, our approach will be very different to how we might approach a legacy carrier,” he said. “Similarly, catchment will vary depending on the route being served,” he added, explaining that there are many elements that need to be considered and solutions that need to be worked on collaboratively.
Amaya Manrique, development manager, Invest in Navarra, was tasked with increasing air connectivity for the Navarra region through Pamplona Airport. Frankfurt was identified as a primary hub to focus on, but “collaboration with all stakeholders was key to our success,” she offered. “I had the business community behind me and could demonstrate that to the airlines. But you have to make the stakeholders feel like they are part of the overall team.”
Acknolwedging that passengers are also stakeholders, Birns pointed out: “There’s an engagement that needs to take place with the consumers and we, as airports need to engage with the travel trade in order to get our message out there.”
Evolution of regional airports
Closing the conference session was a panel discussion around ‘planning ahead for regional airports’. David Surley, head of airline relations at Aarhus Airport – Scandinavia’s fastest-growing airport – described his airport’s growth as balanced across the board. “We have a dynamic mix of airlines serving an interesting mix of destinations,” he said.
He also stressed that in small, regional airports you have to juggle different roles in order to meet demand. “As a small, close-working team we’ve worked hard to bring the attributes of the airport, the city and our passengers to the airlines’ attention.”
Meanwhile Belfast City Airport’s aviation development manager, Ellie McGimpsey, referenced the airport’s recent £15m investment in improving facilities in the departures lounge, security area and fire trucks as she revealed the need to plan ahead so that the airport can respond rapidly to increasing demand.
But she warned that: “Regional airports need to be mindful of how to upscale when times are good, but also how to downscale when its necessary.”
She also urged others not to under-estimate the power of face-to-face interaction both with the airlines and the catchment market. “It’s about story telling. We need to sell ourselves to the airlines, but we also need to go out more and interact with those in our catchment area so that we can provide colour and depth to the market,” she concluded.
With the afternoon dedicated to networking meetings, story-telling was the name of the game as airports sat down with airlines to sell their airport and the destination it serves, in the hope of enhancing connectivity with new routes.
With the networking sessions a buzz of activity, we’re looking forward to reporting on these new routes as they emerge in the coming months.
See you next year
Described by AviaDev’s managing director, Jon Howell, as a “pioneer of understanding the role a tourism authority plays in attracting airlines to a destination,” Valencia proved a fantastic host city for AviaDev’s inaugural European event. So fitting in fact, that it will host the event again in October 2019.