Saturday, March 25, 2017

Flights Just Keep On Increasing

Aena has announced that from Sunday, 26 March until 28 October, airlines' programmes provide for almost 29 million passenger places. This doesn't mean that there will be this number of passengers - the figure is for available places - but one needs to consider some context. For the same "summer" period last year, the provision was 26.4 million, a figure which was only slightly higher than the number of passengers who actually passed through the airport during the whole of the year (26.25 million).

When a similar announcement was made last year, the increase in places was over  16%. In the end, actual occupancy was around 80% of the total, but the announcement was enough to set the alarm bells of the "saturationists" ringing. The increased places this year won't all be sold, but whatever the sales may be, it seems quite possible that for the end-March to end-October period, the number of passengers for the whole of last year will be exceeded.

The increase will mainly apply to the spring and autumn months. In fact, the provisions for May are not out of the ordinary. For April and June they are. Easter is a major factor with the former. School holidays in some German states are a key factor in June. So much for German families opting to go elsewhere. But with more routes operating this summer (47 more), there will be more passengers in high summer as well.

However one looks at it, there are going to be ever more tourists this summer. An expectation made last year that the 27 million passengers' figure will be topped for the whole of 2017 can be discarded. It will be many more.

On the one hand, more tourists in the lower months of the summer is very good news. But on the other hand, the political one (and social one), the news is less good. Biel Barceló was talking recently, and somewhat strangely, about fewer numbers of summer tourists. He was plainly wrong, perhaps misinterpreting, as others had, what Tui had said in Berlin. For Barceló, being able to say this was to his political advantage. Now, though, he is going to face the ever greater ire of Podemos and some in his own party (Més). The pressure groups - GOB, Terraferida, etc. - will have a field day. The season hasn't started, but saturation is already with us, and this summer it will be saturation-plus.

The government reaction so far has been to say that an increase in high-summer flights is "unacceptable". There is no room for more tourists in high summer. One can anticipate there being stronger reactions.

Where does it end? It doesn't, it seems. Aena has given mixed messages about increasing flight capacity - one minute it will increase, the other it won't - and precisely why it is investing so heavily in the airport. The belief is that the capacity will rise to eighty flights per hour at some point. To cope with more routes and flights (14,000 more) this summer, the capacity will need to be increased. In fact, the airport's director has said that 79 flights can be dealt with. They may well need to be.

Even without this to consider, the fact that this summer's passenger (and flight) numbers are on the rise again will only reinforce demands for airport co-management.

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