Socio-economics: the new challenges for air transport

Nadine Pilon

Nadine Pilon

Research Manager at the EEC

In 2000, the EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre (EEC) launched a series of socio-economic studies. The aim was to understand the challenges which need to be overcome by air transport in order to meet society’s needs. Nadine Pilon, Research Manager at the EEC, tells the story.

While air traffic has been growing on a regular basis for decades, technological and socio-economic factors might soon put the brakes on this trend. That is why we set up, in 2000, a group of experts to analyse the environmental impact of air traffic management (ATM). From 2003, this was supplemented by studies on society and the economy, with the aim of understanding the public’s expectations and concerns about air transport and the economic factors driving the growth.

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Public interest and regulatory pressure

The studies show that this sector of activity has a positive impact on the regional, national (GDP*) and local economy. However, it is increasingly affected by the impact on the environment. The main causes of this are regulation and the need for the actors involved to adopt sustainable strategies.

In terms of the general public, our findings were clear. The world of ATM, and more generally air transport, is largely a mystery to them. This makes taking public decisions in this area more difficult. Also, society in Europe is increasingly taking account of the environmental impact of flights (noise, air quality, emissions, etc.) in its perceptions of air traffic. Taken together with our society’s aversion to risks, this means that demand for air transport is much less predictable than it used to be.

We have therefore explored the concept of sustainability in this area and in ATM. Our aim was to reconcile these environmental, economic and societal problems using the indicators of sustainable growth and compromise in decision-making. Actors in the air transport sector now need to adopt a common, more integrated and collaborative approach in the face of increased public interest and regulatory pressure.

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Objective: a more efficient European sky

In this changing economy, European ATM is taking action. The SESAR** research programme is reorganising the sector to enhance performance and profitability. It is also incorporating our socio-economic studies in order to define the contours of a harmonised European sky in 2020.

* GDP: Gross domestic product
** SESAR: Single European Sky ATM Research