Opportunities for New Regional Air Services in Europe

Opportunities for New Regional Air Services in Europe


N P S Dennis, University of Westminster, UK


This paper examines the scope for regional airports to develop new air services such as large turbo-prop operations, niche leisure routes, hub links, cross-country domestic sectors and long-haul flights.


Regional air services have become one of the fastest growing sectors of the aviation industry in recent years. Small aircraft provide the flexibility to develop new routes or to improve the provision of services on existing routes. With many major airports in Europe becoming congested, the smaller airports have also found an opportunity to capture a greater share of demand, not least through the low-cost carriers.

The definition of a regional service is a somewhat contentious one but this paper will concentrate on operations with turbo-prop aircraft and small jets of up to about 100 seats capacity, services from regional airports away from the major cities and also small secondary airports serving the same metropolitan region as a larger airport.

As demand for air travel continues to grow, an ever increasing number of routes will reach the threshold for direct service. Whereas some airports have been ignored by the low-cost airlines or they are only able to justify one or two routes with their 737 size aircraft, there is a possible opportunity for semi low-cost operations with large turbo-props (e.g. Dash 8 Q-400, ATR72). These are the only aircraft under 100 seats with competitive seat mile costs due to their low fuel burn.

Although regional airports will never be able to support a network of worldwide services, they can still obtain this level of accessibility through a single link to a major hub airport. This is hence a priority, particularly for regions remote from the major airports.

In the domestic markets, most countries have extensively developed domestic networks to and from the capital city, the smaller cross-country flows are often poorly catered for. Surface modes are often unattractive in these markets as the rail and motorway systems also focus on the national capital. There is thus a potential role for air transport, particularly if non-stop services can be provided. There would appear to be more scope for cross-country domestic air routes in France and Spain in particular.

There are a number of examples around Europe of airports in attractive locations close to the main city centres that for physical or environmental reasons are constrained to operate small, high performance aircraft. This provides a secure niche for the regional airlines because the access time advantages and shorter processing times cannot be easily replicated by the major or low-cost carriers.

Regional aircraft are kept busy during the weekdays but often have spare time at weekends which are the prime time for leisure travel. It is possible to tap some niches in shorter distance or more up-market resorts e.g. Channel Isles, Sardinia (especially from Germany) and Alpine Ski destinations such as Innsbruck, Chambery or Sion.

Finally, the scope for long-haul services from regional airports is addressed. These fall into two main categories - hub links typically at daily frequency such as CO to Newark or EK to Dubai and low frequency leisure routes to places such as Florida or the Caribbean.


Association for European Transport