CAPA WORLD SUMMIT: Does ‘over-regulation’ pose a challenge to airport development in some parts of the world?

3 December, 2018

At last week's CAPA World Aviation Outlook Summit, Berlin Brandenburg Airport's (FBB) CEO Dr Engelbert Luetke Daldrup highlighted over-regulation poses challenges for "big projects" in Europe. European economies have to "rethink their regulatory frameworks" to remain competitive in terms of infrastructure, he added. Meanwhile, he explained that other regions such as Asia and Turkey show projects can be implemented rapidly due to their having a different regulatory framework.

Mr Daldrup was supported by the director of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Dr Johannes Reichmuth, who opined that European planning processes "tend to take longer than in other regions". But he also insisted that airport capacity constraints remain a global problem and not just a European one. Dr Reichmuth said planning processes become more complex and sophisticated to take into account interests of all interest groups affected by airport infrastructure.

In the UK the decision on if and where to place one additional runway in the southeast of England does not date back merely to the formation of the Airports Commission in Sep-2012, or to the 2003 White Paper which recommended the provision of two new runways there by 2030 (there will only be one now, and only just). It actually dates back to proposals first tendered in the 1950s. The eight-year saga that is the building of the new Berlin airport has the consequence of the life span of a mayfly by comparison.

When Dr Reichmuth talks of "the interests of all interest groups" he is only partially correct. There is only one significant interest group now, the environmental lobby. Heathrow Airport's chief strategy officer hit the nail on the head when he said the political argument surrounding construction on a third runway "is done". But, Heathrow now needs planning consent which it expects will be granted in 2020. The fact that yet another two years will be required just to gain planning approval hints at the environmental hoops - mainly concerning noise and emissions - that the UK hub will yet have to jump through.

As for the suggestion that European planning processes generally take longer than in other regions, an analysis of the CAPA Airport Construction Database shows that while there are more airport infrastructure projects there right now than in North America, and second only to Asia Pacific, time scales do tend to be longer, with five years not untypical from the date of origination of a project to completion.

There are some projects which buck the trend. For example Manchester Airports Group is pressing ahead quickly with major works at both Manchester and London Stansted airports. Others making good progress include Oslo, various other Nordic airports, and those in East and Southeast Europe where large investments are being made by big European firms as part of concession deals. Those airports, and governments, are grateful for that investment and regulatory procedures can and will be relaxed as required. In Moscow, USD5.6 billion in airport investment are being rushed through, in anticipation of the privatisation of Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo airports

But to understand Messrs Daldrup and Reichmuth's points one needs only to look at Amsterdam, where the opening of Lelystad Airport to commercial traffic to take pressure off Schiphol Airport keeps being put back, largely for environmental reasons, which have always featured prominently at Schiphol itself. The management is desperately trying to find new ways of expanding Schiphol, one of the latest, as reported by The Blue Swan Daily, being towards the sea.

Dublin is another, where the second runway, scheduled to open in 2021, wasn't exactly an instantaneous decision (planning permission was given in 2007 with 31 conditions attached) and even now it could be too short. Or Munich, where the postponement of the third runway looks to be heavily environmentally weighted, as recently highlighted by The Blue Swan Daily.

That is not to say that everything happens at the speed of light in North America, where the last major new airport opened in 1995 (Denver) although that is more a case of political and financial inertia than ecological pressures and it was even longer ago in Canada. Or in Asia Pacific. Take The Philippines for example, where the government seems unsure if it really wants to expand Manila's Ninoy Aquino airport, the old Clark military base 50 miles away or to have a new airport built at one of several locations, and what its priorities - including the regulatory aspects - are.

And of course there are always arguments in favour of regulation. The new Istanbul Airport, eventually to be one of the biggest in the world, was conceived and delivered in double-quick time but at the cost of many hundreds of injuries amongst constructions workers. The ratio of admitted fatalities to construction workers is far greater than in Western European countries where regulation is much tougher.