Italian airport system (1)

Based on the ENAC figures, in 2013 Italian airports transited overall 143,510,334 passengers, reducing 1.7% on 2012 (146,000,783).

Growth estimates indicate a possible doubling of traffic by 2030, with 300 million passengers expected to be exceeded and an increase particularly for international traffic. Growth of airline traffic is recognised across Europe as a fundamental element for economic development, which may be only achieved if:

  • the necessary restructuring and development is made to the capacity of the existing airport infrastructure, however where compatible with environmental conditions;
  • the airports are accessible to the wider region and effectively interconnected with other means of transport.

Airports have an economic significance both at a local level and domestic level. 

In Italy, the economic impact in the region from passengers is estimated at approx. Euro 100 billion per year. The major Italian airport managers employed directly in 2010 over 9,000 persons to serve traffic of approx. 140 million passengers, while in jobs terms the air transport sector overall generates approx. 500 thousand jobs, whether direct, indirect or as spin off, for an additional value of approx. Euro 15 billion annually. On average over recent years, investments have been made by airport operators of approx. Euro 5 billion per year, with revenues of approx. Euro 3 billion.

Passenger traffic development over the last ten years

Italian passenger numbers grew from 91 million in 2000 to approx. 149 million in 2011, with an annual average growth rate of 4.6%. Growth was almost constant until 2008 – except for the reduction in 2001 due to the terrors attacks in the US – with a growth rate of 4.8% annually. It thereafter reduced in 2008 (-1.75%) and 2009 (-2.30%). Despite the recession, traffic returned to growth in 2010, with a sustained improvement of 7% on the previous year. Growth continued in 2011, with an increase of 6.5% in 2011 compared to 2010. 

The average number of passengers per movement however has continually grown, increasing from 75 pax/mov in 2000 to 106 pax/mov in 2011. Traffic grew at a greater rate than global traffic (CAGR +4%, source ICAO), in line with the European growth rate however (CAGR +4.8%, source Eurostat). 

The most significant aspects of the growth in the last 10 years which impacted the infrastructural development of the terminals of the airport network were:

the international traffic component, which grew significantly and across all airports;

the low cost traffic component, with growth at some airports on nearly all routes and in a number of years at double digit rates (Trapani +44%, Rome Ciampino +25.5%, Treviso +25.4%, Bergamo +23.8% and Pisa +15.8%);

intercontinental traffic, whose growth created new opportunities on the Far Eastern markets. 

The Italian airport network responded with sufficient capacity, also thanks to the entry into the mid-size airport segment category of airports previously considered of reduced commercial activity. The average annual growth rate is estimated at 3.2% in the 2011-2030 period, lower than previous years, both due to the expected slowdown in the short-term period and the low growth potential forecast for the European area. 

The majority of growth will be due to international traffic (+4%), which has the greatest development potential. For domestic traffic, a segment in which Italy has a natural tendency towards given its geography, with aircraft being a preferred mode of transport between the North and the South and between the islands and the rest of Italy – a contained growth rate (+1.8%) is forecast, also considering the competitive impact of high speed rail.

In contrast to the majority of the major European countries, where traffic is concentrated at a few strategic airports, in Italy traffic is distributed across mid-size airports and in airports with less than 5 million passengers. 

In 2000, approx. 60% of traffic was concentrated in the 3 airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa and Milan Linate; in 2011, 63% of traffic was concentrated in 6 airports, therefore with a particularly significant spread of traffic if compared to countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The particular geographic make-up of the peninsula favours in fact the distribution of air traffic across more airports, which can reach a wider user base and thus guaranteeing accessibility in acceptable timeframes. Such a network, providing more effective air traffic through a broad offer, is a strength to be preserved for local and national economic development, also in relation to the particular regional distribution of the productive base of medium and small enterprises. In terms of the location of the commercial airports, on the basis of population and regional reach, the Italian airport network is in line with the major European countries, with one airport for every 1.27 million residents and for every 6,400 Km2.

Cargo traffic role and development

Although cargo traffic in Italy represents a very small part of the total of cargo transported in volume terms (approx. 2%), it plays a primary role in economic value terms, equating to approx. 40% (source ISTAT) of the total value of cargo transported. Compared to the major competing European countries, of approx. 12 million tonnes moved, the share generated by our airports was 7%, with those in Germany accounting for 37% and those in France 15%. Cargo traffic in Italy, after a significant contraction in 2009 - due also to the discontinuation by Alitalia of these activities - retook market share in 2010 (with growth of 18%) and in 2011, with 940,000 tonnes, equal to that reported in 2006. 

In Italy, cargo traffic continues to be concentrated primarily in two regions (Lombardy 64% and Lazio 20%), where approx. 84% of total cargo is moved via air. Traffic was substantially concentrated (approx. 77%) in three major airports: Milan Malpensa (47%), Rome Fiumicino (18%) and Bergamo Orio al Serio (12%). All other airports accounted for less than 4% of the total. 63% of cargo transported had non-EU destinations (31% Asia; 18% North America; 8% Middle East), while 32% was destined for European markets, with only 5% for the domestic market. 

Malpensa is the principal airport for non-EU traffic, followed by Rome Fiumicino, while Bergamo is a leading airport for intra-EU flights. 

Overall cargo traffic, with Italian origin and destination, totalled 25% for imports and 75% for exports, variously distributed across the macro-regions. In fact, with exports significantly favouring the North-West of Italy (70%), the North-East strongly favoured imports. Growth forecasts for the 2010-2030 period, estimate Italian cargo traffic to increase from 900,000 tonnes in 2010 to 1,600,000 tonnes in 2030, doubling therefore current traffic, although in any case well under the current and expected numbers for the major European countries. 

The air cargo transport service is fundamental for the sale of high-end products, those with high added value, or products which require a high degree of security and delivery speed, such as:

  • precious goods, due to economic value (e.g. high-technological content, jewellery) or demand value (e.g. spare parts);
  • perishable goods, due to type (feedstuffs, livestock, flowers) or in value terms (high fashion goods). 

The particular nature of goods transported requires the solution of complex intermodal logistics problems, high logistics standards, both in terms of support services to the transport of the goods, where such concerns for example perishable goods, and in terms of the punctuality and reliability of delivery services, such as express post/couriers or strategic goods of a just-in-time chain. The offer of airport support structures and adequate infrastructure for accessibility are strategic in this sense.

Airport operating models

The management of Italian airports has changed over the years. Until the reform of the airport system in 1993 (Law No. 537 of December 24, 1993), 3 operating systems for Italian airports were in force: 

  • direct management by the State, which concerned the implementation and maintenance of all assets and airport infrastructure, the receipt of income and the payment of operating charges; 
  • partial management, under which the airport manager was provided under concession the land and the use of assets within the airport grounds (passenger and cargo hangers and the relative areas for the carrying out of the principal airport services such as handling or commercial activities), while the management of infrastructure remained under the control of the State; the manager, in addition to receiving the revenues related to the exercise of such activities, received the passenger boarding fees and the taxes on incoming and outgoing cargo, incurring the maintenance charges on the assets under concession;  
  • total management, which began in the 1960’s. The concession holder is conferred management of all services at the airport, including infrastructure. The manager receives all income concerning airport activity, including airport fees related to airport management (take-off fees, landing fees and stand rights, passenger boarding fees and incoming and outgoing cargo fees); the total management was allocated over time to private companies, consortiums, public bodies, without however public tender procedures, although through special laws. The duration of these concessions ranged from a minimum of 40 years (for Genoa airport) to a maximum 80 years (for the Milan airports). 

Following Law 537/1993, the predominant concession system in place has become the total management model. With the subsequent enactment regulation of the Law (Ministerial Decree No. 521 of 1997), it was established that the airport management companies were exclusively to be private enterprises, although also with State or local body participation and the maximum duration of concession was fixed at 40 years. Also airports whose management was awarded in the past under the partial management model had the option to convert the previous concession to total management following the presentation of an application by an intervention programme.

The role of public financing in the airport sector

Public financing in the airport sector has had an impact on the results of a number of Italian airports. Considering the 2012 financial statements results of airport operating companies, profits were reported for all the largest Italian airport operators by traffic volume, with the exception of SAGAT, the manager of Turin airport. Smaller airports reported losses. However, in many cases these net profits were due to the inclusion of public grants (from the State, the Regions or the European Union).

Results of the major Italian airports in 2012

AirportManagerStrategic (S)/ National interest (N)Majority Holding2012 pre-tax resultGrants
Rome (Fiumicino+Ciampino) ADR S Private Profit 310.5 mln  
Milan (Linate+Malpensa) SEA N /S Public Profit 89.7 mln 1.6 mln
Bergamo SACBO N Private Profit 22.9 mln  
Venice Gruppo SAVE S Private Profit 45.4 mln 1.9 mln
Catania SAC S Public Loss 92.0 mln 1.4 mln
Bologna SAB S Public Profit 3.5 mln  
Brindisi, Bari, Foggia, Taranto Aeroporti di Puglia N /S Public Profit 3.0 mln 27.7 mln
Naples GESAC S Private Profit 11.3 mln 1.05 mln
Palermo GESAP S Public Loss 8.5 mln  
Pisa   S Public Profit 8.4 mln  
Cagliari SOGAER S Public Profit 7.1 mln 14.7 mln
Turin SAGAT N Private Loss 0.3 mln 2.5 mln
Verona Catullo Spa N Public Loss 15.7 mln  
Lamezia Terme SACAL S Public Loss 2.0 mln 2.3 mln
Alghero SOGEAAL N Public Loss 2.1 mln 9 mln
Ancona Aerdorica N Public Loss 3.7 mln 8.7 mln
Perugia SASE N Public Loss 0.7 mln 2.2 mln
Bolzano ABD   Public Profit 0.003 mln 2.7 mln
Grosseto SEAM   Public Profit 0.012 mln 0.033 mln

Source: Transport Regulation Authority, First Annual Report to Parliament 2014

Airport infrastructure and usage level

The airport infrastructure which may represent a restriction to the number of aircraft managed are the terminals, the stands (as every aircraft which lands must immediately have a stand ready) and the runways. 

The capacity of the Italian airports may be measured through two major indicators. The first relates to the hourly capacity of the structures and may be measured in terms of the maximum number of aircraft manageable by the system per hour (movements/hour). The second is the maximum number of annual passengers. 

An analysis of the usage level of strategic and national interest airports generally highlights a good availability of runway systems, which present a total capacity of approx. 245 million passengers compared to 133 million passengers in 2008. However, considering the airports individually, a number are close to saturation: Rome Fiumicino and Bologna present 83% of the runway capacity utilised in terms of traffic, while Cagliari, Pisa and Bergamo present an approx. 70% usage level. In general however, available airport capacity is under-utilised. In relation to the availability of stands, this on average appears adequate, reaching a total capacity of 230 million passengers. Apart from a few cases in which a specific bottleneck was noted (such as the airports of national interest of Milan Linate and Turin and some strategic airports such as Naples and Bari), a large part of Italian airports presented significantly underused capacity.

The airport terminal system however presented a total capacity (190 million passengers) which is lower than the stands on runways. In relation to the 2008 traffic figures, this capacity represents a critical issue in particular at the strategic airports of Venice, Florence, Pisa, Catania and Palermo and those of national interest of Bergamo, Verona, Treviso, Parma, Ciampino, Perugia, Pantelleria and Lampedusa.

Airport fees regulatory framework development

Airport fees concern aircraft take-off and landing fees, those for aircraft hangars and stands and passenger boarding fees. These are charges incurred by the airlines and their collection enables the airport management companies to recover the cost of infrastructure and services related to the use of aircraft and operations concerning passengers and cargo, which the companies make available to the airlines. The regulatory framework concerning the fixing of airport fees in recent years has undergone many changes, both in terms of the tariff methods used and in relation to the boards responsible for fixing fees. 

In relation to airport fees, important new issues were introduced with EU Directive 2009/12/EC concerning common principles for the setting and collection of airport fees. Consensus emerged at EU level on the need to establish, for the level of fees applicable at larger European airports, a set of common rules to reach, where possible, a direct agreement between the airport manager and users. 

In particular, the Directive obliged member states, for airports with annual traffic of greater than 5 million, to establish:

  1. an obligatory consultation procedure between the manager and users to ensure, where possible, agreed changes to airport fees among the airport manager on the one hand and users on the other;
  2. an independent Supervisory Authority which both of the parties may individually turn to in the case of a disagreement among them on the review of airport fees.

The Directive was therefore incorporated into Italian law through Legislative Decree No. 1 of January 2012, enacted into Law No. 27 of March 20, 2012, which at Article 71, in addition to setting up the Supervisory Authority, established the means for the setting of airport fees on the basis of “consultation” among the parties; the Decree however did not limit the obligatory consultation procedure only to airports with annual traffic of greater than 5 million passengers. 

The main objectives concern the guarantee of non-discrimination, transparency and consultation of airlines where the airport authorities establish the fees to be applied, in addition to the appropriateness of these fees. 

The EU principles have therefore significantly altered the domestic regulatory framework in terms of tariff regulation in the airport sector, laying the basis for the renewal of the previous regulatory framework, in that a dynamic negotiating framework has been set down (between manager and user) for the establishment of the major aspects and related issues – such as the development of traffic, quality of services, new infrastructure projects, the level of airport fees – which previously were set by authorities and principally for planning objectives.

For only the airports with traffic of greater than 8 million passengers annually (this category includes, according to the 2010 figures, the airports of Roma Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa and Milan Linate), Article 17, paragraph 34-bis of Legislative Decree No. 78/2009, in order to incentivise the alteration to infrastructure, authorised ENAC to sign Regulatory Agreements in derogation to the applicable regulation, introducing long-term tariff systems based on the costs of infrastructure and services.

The National Airports Plan

In January 2014, the Ministry for Infrastructure and Transport (MIT) drew up a new National Airports Plan in order to restructure and reorganise the Italian airport system. The objectives of the plan were as follows:

  • to provide the various institutions and operating entities within the sector with a framework for the overall development of a sector which is fundamental to economic growth, employment and social development in the country;
  • to provide a governance instrument for the sector, to face the challenges which have emerged from the current developments within the international and European market;
  • to optimise the transport offer also through the co-ordination of air transport sector interventions with plans concerning the other means of transport;
  • to identify the priority infrastructure in which to concentrate investment, in order to improve the allocation of available resources.

The departure point of the Plan was identified as the strategic airports and those of national interest which comprise the fundamental airport system structure for the coming years, in order to distinguish them from airports of local or regional importance. 

The criteria with which the strategic airports are identified are:

  1. division of the national territory utilising as a reference point the regional breakdown of Italy into the major regions according to the NUTS-level 1 table: North-West, North-East, Centre, South and Islands;
  2. identification, in each of these major regions, of similar traffic basins with maximum distance of 2 hours by road from a strategic airport; ten traffic basins were established through this process: North-East, North-West, Centre-North, Central Italy, Campania, Mediterranean-Adriatic, Calabria, Sicily-East, West Sicily, Sardinia;
  3. identification of a single strategic airport for each basin, in addition to the group of additional airports of national interest, in application of the criteria established by Article 698 of the Navigation Code.

Among the regulatory sources earmarked for the identification of the strategic airports of each basin, the Plan refers to Regulation (EC) No. 1315/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 11, 2013 on the outlook of the union on the development of the trans-European transport network and which annuls Decision No. 661/201/EC, which establishes the focus on the development of a trans-European network including a double-layered structure which consists of a global network and of a central network (Article 1):

  • the global network is defined as all transport infrastructure, existing and planned, of the trans-European transport network, in addition to the measures which promote sufficient and sustainable use in social and environmental terms;
  • the central network consists of those parts of the global network which have the greatest strategic importance for the achievement of the objectives for the development of the trans-European transport network. 

The criteria adopted in the Plan consider airports of national interest as those which satisfy two conditions:

  1. the airport must be capable of implementing a well-defined plan within the user base, with a substantial specialisation of the airport (for example a focus on leisure traffic, principally for cargo traffic, city airport etc.);
  2. the airport must be able to demonstrate economic-financial equilibrium over a reasonable timeframe. 

In application of these criteria, the Plan identified 11 Strategic Airports and 26 Airports of National Interest, whose breakdown by traffic basin is reported in the following table:

Classification of the airports according to the National Airports Plan

Traffic basinStrategic AirportsAirports of National interest
North-East Milan Malpensa Milan Linate, Turin, Bergamo, Genova, Brescia, Cuneo
North-West Venice Verona, Treviso, Trieste
Centre-North Bologna, Pisa/Florence* Rimini, Parma, Ancona
Central Italy Rome Fiumicino Rome Ciampino, Perugia, Pescara
Campania Naples Salerno
Meditteranean/Adriatic Bari Brindisi, Taranto
Calabria Lamezia Reggio Calabria, Crotone
Sicily-East Catania Comiso
Sicily-West Palermo Trapani, Pantelleria, Lampedusa
Sardinia Cagliari Olbia, Alghero

* Provided that a single Corporate Governance is implemented.

Source: MIT, National Airports Plan 2014

The Centre-North provides the only exception to the rule for a strategic airport for each basin, with the following considered as strategic airports:

  • Bologna and Pisa/Florence, in consideration of the geographical characteristics of the region, the proximity to and the size of the airports;
  • Bari and Catania, which EC Regulation originally classified as global.

The choice of airports to classify as strategic or of national interest falls to major airports within the European network and those with passenger traffic growth potential. In addition, the size of the airport, defined on the basis of passenger traffic, has played a fundamental role: the airports not included in the national network feature in fact reduced passenger traffic.

(1) Sources: MIT – ENAC, 2012 Airports National Plan; Transport Regulation Authority, First Annual Report to Parliament 2014