Top ten European airports

With several Middle East airlines flying to Europe, Aviation Business looks at the continent's leading hubs.
Top ten European airports
By Rob Morris
Mon 02 Jul 2007 03:56 PM

With several Middle East airlines flying to Europe, Aviation Business looks at the continent's leading hubs.

Zürich Airport


Zürich Airport is located in Kloten, canton of Zürich, Switzerland and managed by Unique Airport.

It is Switzerland's largest international flight gateway and hub to national domestic carrier Swiss International Air Lines and Lufthansa.

In 2003, a major expansion project involving a new parking garage, midfield terminal, and automated underground train to move passengers between the existing and new terminal was completed.

Further work was carried out on passenger ramps as part of the airport's expansion stage 5 project.

The renovations were completed two years ago, leading to more efficient operations at departure gates and improved passenger ramp facilities. Plans to modernise other areas such as 70,000 m² of damaged apron surfaces are ongoing.

Traffic at Zürich Airport dropped when carrier Swissair went bust in recent years, although numbers have since picked up with Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) contributing to the recent turnaround.

Indeed, figures for 2006 show more than 19.2 million people travelled through the hub.

The airport's popularity among budget airlines was reinforced when UK low cost carrier easyJet said it would resume a service between Luton and Zürich from this September.

Twice daily services on week days and a single return service on weekends are scheduled. In 2005, easyJet dropped flights to the Swiss city to focus on Basel and Geneva.

Several established airlines use the hub, including Hamburg International, Air Canada and US Airways.

Leipzig-Halle Airport

The hub is the second German airport to make the list, with some 2.34 million passengers in 2006. During the same period, flight movements climbed to 42,333 from 37,905.

Leipzig/Halle Airport celebrated its 70th anniversary in 1997. It was on Easter Monday in 1927 that the airport - which was modern for its time - opened. The hub is based north of the town of Schkeuditz, half way between the cities of Halle and Leipzig Eric Malitzke, managing director of airport operator Flughafen Leipzig/Halle GmbH, reckons the hub is becoming more attractive to airlines.

He added the airport had made a "significant contribution" to tourism and secured new investors.

Aside from passenger growth, Leipzig-Halle also registered more flight arrivals and departures in 2006.

Indeed, Air Berlin extended its service to London and Palma de Mallorca, with connecting flights to 14 destinations in Spain and Portugal.

Meanwhile, TUIfly (formerly HLX) launched services to five new destinations in Germany (Stuttgart, Munich, Dusseldorf, Klagenfurt and Salzburg).

Other carriers to increase flights include Air Berlin, which expanded its Majorca Shuttle service from eight to eleven flights a week; Air France providing twice-daily flights to Paris and Austrian Airlines announcing 18 weekly departures to Vienna. Cargo numbers were also up in 2006 compared with the previous year. The hub was responsible for 29,330 tonnes during the past 12 months - a 143.3% increase with 12,053 tonnes handled in 2005.
Munich International Airport

Munich International Airport's reputation as a leading hub was confirmed earlier this year during the World Airport Awards 2006. Some 30.7 million travelled through the hub last year, suggesting its title as Europe's Best Airport is deserved.

The airport, which came third in the World's Best Airport category, was opened in 1992 to replace the former international hub in Munich-Riem. Since then, it has grown into a 1500 hectare site with two terminals, two parallel runways measuring 4000 metres long and 60 metres wide, and 10 car parks.

The hub, which is officially named Franz Josef Strauss International Airport, is located 17.5 miles (28km) northeast of Munich, Germany. It is the main base for German airline Lufthansa and various Star Alliance partner airlines.

The airport is located across four municipalities: Freising, Oberding (location of the terminals), Hallbergmoos and Marzling. It is named in memory of politician Franz Josef Strauß.

In 2006, the airport had 30.7 million passengers, making it the second most important airport in Germany. Munich's hub is jointly owned by three shareholders. The Free State of Bavaria holds a 51% stake while the Federal Republic of Germany and City of Munich own 26% and 23% respectively.

The airport is divided into three parts: Terminal 1, the Common Area and Terminal 2, which is the newest building. All three are within walking distance of each other, with Terminal 2 the base for Lufthansa and Star Alliance flights. Furthermore, there is a separate General Aviation Terminal serving private and corporate planes.

The German government is conducting a feasibility study for the Transrapid Airport Link, a high-speed magnetic levitation train. If developed, the train would cut journey times between the airport and city centre to just 10 minutes each way. Nevertheless, the enormous US$2.3 billion development costs have attracted criticism from residents living close by. It's thought the project will only go ahead if funding can be raised - an issue that remains unclear.

Plans to build a third runway at the airport have also received short shrift from local residents.

The government says a new runway is needed to meet expected demand, although some remain unconvinced. Despite opposition, the Regional Government of Upper Bavaria is confident the development will go ahead, having recently announced completion of the planning process.

Dr Michael Kerkloh from airport operating company FMG - which submitted the project application - said the development is the first step in expanding the airport.

Athens International Airport

Athens International Airport opened on March 29, 2001. The Greek capital's only civilian airport is a major hub for state-owned carrier Olympic Airlines and Aegean Airlines.

It took more than two years to build the US$2.94 billion hub, which replaced its congested predecessor. The new hub offers airlines and passengers a modern, spacious and state-of-the-art environment. In six years, the airport has secured several accolades and global recognition, according to the International Air Transport Association. Indeed, it was highly ranked in the hub size categories for the IATA Global Airport Monitor and AETRA surveys.

During the past two years, the hub secured the Skytrax award for best Airport in Southern Europe. It also secured the European Airport of the Year accolade in 2004 at the Institute of Transport Management (ITM) Awards, for its innovative entrepreneurial scheme, operation and achievements.

The airport is located between Markopoulo, Koropi, Sparta and Loutsa, some 20km to the east of central Athens. It is named after Elefthérios Venizélos, a Greek prime minister who aided the Cretan rising against the Ottoman occupation of Crete in 1896.

Greek's main hub has two terminals, the Main Terminal and Satellite Terminal, and two parallel runways measuring 4km each. It also has 24 passenger boarding bridges, 89 aircraft parking stands and 48 gates. Other features include 11 luggage claim conveyor belts, with an hourly capacity of 7000, and at least 144 check-in counters.

Athens International Airport was developed by a public-private partnership, with the Greek government holding a 55% stake. The airport is considered one of Europe's most expensive, with several restaurants and cafes paying huge rents, while airlines have to fork out for inflated landing fees.

The new airport is equipped with two robotic systems (Hercules and Ulysses) which are capable of handling suspect devices and safely identifying and removing explosives. Hercules was donated to the airport by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

In 2006, the airport served 15,079,662 passengers, 5.6% more than 2005. A rail station immediately adjacent to the airport terminal (and accessible by an elevated walkway) was completed in time for the 2004 Olympics. There are two rail links to the station: line three of the Athens Metro and Proastiakos suburban train service. The airport is also accessible by the Attiki Odos highway. When planning the airport, the Greek authorities were keen to upgrade its facilities in the years following completion.

The strategy was to carry out a six-stage project that led to increased passenger handling. The first stage will see passenger numbers climb to 16 million while the airport should be capable of accommodating 50 million when the project is completed.
Helsinki-Vantaa Airport

Helsinki-Vantaa Airport was opened in 1952 for the Helsinki Olympic Games. Today, it handles more than 11 million passengers a year and provides some 11,000 jobs.

The hub is the main international airport in Finland, with frequent connections to more than 60 destinations around the world. Every week some 30 regular flight companies make 1000 scheduled flights to Europe, Asia and the US.

Located 5km from the centre of Vantaa, the airport is home to Finnish flag carrier Finnair and Blue1, the feeder airline for SAS.

Expansion of the airport's international terminal was completed in August 2004, serving passengers booked on long-haul flights and people arriving from or departing to countries outside the Schengen area. It is expected to increase the airport's capacity to some 15 million passengers a year.

Much effort has gone into improving the airport and its services during the past 15 years.

Helsinki-Vantaa has won several accolades, including the world's best hub four times and Europe's leading airport twice.

It's understood that the judges involved were impressed with the airport's friendly atmosphere, high service standards and friendly staff.

Barcelona Airport

Barcelona Airport is located southwest of the city, between El Prat de Llobregat, Viladecans and Sant Boi. It is 3km from the Port of Barcelona, one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean for container traffic. The hub is also close to the Free Zone Consortium, a leading logistics centre.

The airport dates back to 1916 when it was a tiny operation based at La Volatería farm. Since then, it has developed into a hub that serves more than 30 million passengers each year.

In 1970, Pan American started operating the New York-Lisbon-Barcelona route, using a Boeing 747. By November that year, the Barcelona-Madrid air shuttle service was launched, boosting annual passenger numbers to more than five million. During the next two decades, the air shuttle and cargo terminals were built.

The airport faced its biggest challenge in 1992 as Barcelona played host to the Olympic Games. By that time, the hub's new service building had been inaugurated, while the passenger terminal had been extended.

From 1995, Barcelona airport was benefiting from deregulated scheduled air services. With more relaxed procedures in place, the hub grew into one of Europe's top 15 and world's top 50 airports.

In 1999, the Ministry of Economic Development approved the blueprint for Barcelona airport, which marked the official start of Plan Barcelona. The strategy involves major transformation of the hub. Similar projects were carried out in 1968 and 1992, with the airport's facilities modernised and various features added, including a third runway, new terminal area, and road and railway access. A 300 hectare service area was also built for industrial and commercial use.

Once these developments are complete, the airport will be capable of handling 55 million passengers annually. Reports suggest the airport will cover 15.33 km² in 2007 - a substantial increase from 8.45 km².
Copenhagen Airport

Founded in 1925, Copenhagen Airport was one of the first civil hubs in the world. The early years were characterised by the pioneering spirit in a day and age when flying was for the privileged few.

Since then, landings and take-offs at Copenhagen Airport have steadily increased to almost 259,000 in 2006. Meanwhile, some 20.8 million passengers travelled through the hub last year - a 4.5% increase compared with 2005.

The airport is considered one of Scandinavia's main hubs.

It was built in 1925 and is located 8km southeast of Copenhagen city centre. In the 1970s, plans to develop a new airport on Saltholm, an island that would have connecting bridges to Denmark and Sweden, were mooted.

But by the following decade, the Danish parliament scrapped the idea in favour of expanding the hub's capacity to 22 million passengers by 2000.

The expansion strategy was launched in 1982, with the Danish government keen to develop Copenhagen Airport into an ‘oasis' where passengers could relax.

Comfortable surroundings, Scandinavian design and several amenities such as shops and restaurants were included in the developer's blueprint.

The developers were also instructed to build new cargo facilities in the east side of the airport.

Carrier SAS, a member of carrier network Star Alliance, is one of the airport's largest serving airlines.

Other carriers and businesses based at the hub include express air freight company DHL, Maersk, RyanAir, GoFly, and Dutch airline KLM. Direct connections are available from Copenhagen Airport to some 132 destinations around the globe, 19 of which are intercontinental, 84 European and 22 Nordic. The airport is also used for seven domestic flights.

Venice Marco Polo Airport

Venice Marco Polo Airport is one of Italy's main hubs and was named after the eponymous Venetian traveller, who is generally recognised as the European discoverer of China.

The hub is managed by airport operator SAVE S.p.A and trades on the Milan Stock Exchange. In 2006, some four million passengers travelled through the airport - a 7.8% increase compared with 2005. Based on these figures, Venice Marco Polo Airport is Italy's third busiest after Rome and Milan.

More than 700 scheduled flights for national and international destinations take off from the airport each week.

In May 2000, the launch of daily scheduled flights between Venice and New York confirmed Marco Polo's position as the third intercontinental airport in Italy.

During the past three years, new intercontinental direct flights to Philadelphia and Atlanta have been introduced at the hub.

A new 60,000 m² passenger terminal was recently built, providing an additional 60 check-ins and baggage conveyor covering 3000 metres.

The terminal will increase the airport's capacity to 6.5 million passengers.

Italian airlines Air One and Alitalia are based at the hub, with several other carriers also flying out from the airport. These include Air France, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa and Delta Airlines.

Few Middle East carriers use the hub, with Emirates the only airline from the region to touch down at Marco Polo Venice Airport.
Ruzyn International Airport
(Czech Rep)

On April 5, 1937, the first aircraft to fly into the airport landed at 9:00am. Some 70 years on, the hub has grown from a small operation handling thousands of passengers to a leading European airport near Prague with 11.5 million in 2006. It has received several high-profile visitors, including US president George W. Bush last year.

In recent years, the airport has been renovated to satisfy increasing passenger demand. Indeed, Terminal North 1 was developed in 1997 and features a restaurant, bar and 25 shops. Other developments include a new access road to the terminal, 2000 parking spaces, additional check-in areas and baggage X-ray systems, and improved technology for navigating aircraft to the landing strips.

The airport's second terminal was also updated 10 years ago with a new 2500 m² passenger handling hall. Terminal South 2 has new waiting rooms and lounges, crew preparation areas and company offices. It also includes a modified control tower and service areas for chartered and private jets.

Ruzyn International Airport is home to Czech Republic's national carrier Czech Airlines and base for other operators including Finnair.

Domodedovo International Airport

Domodedovo International Airport is Russia's largest, with more than 15.4 million people travelling through in 2006. The passenger increase - up 10.1% compared with 2005 - was one of several positive developments. Indeed, many airlines launched new services, while airport facilities were reconstructed and new technologies introduced.

Domodedovo International Airport is located 35km south of Moscow. The Russian capital has several airports, with Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo the most prominent. Domodedovo is the main airport in Russia, surpassing Sheremetyevo in terms of international and domestic passenger traffic.

Today, Domodedovo works with 72 partner airlines, including 34 Russian, 22 foreign and 16 air carriers from the CIS countries. Last year, the hub won the Airport Association of Civil Aviation's best CIS airport award for 2005. It also came second in the World Airport Award's best airport of Eastern Europe category.

Domodedovo operator EAST LINE Group is developing a strategy to increase passenger numbers and turn the airport into a major international hub.

Plans include doubling the terminal space to 225,000m² by investing US$300 million during the next two years. The first stage of expansion will involve extending Terminal 1 by 27,000m² to 97,600m², creating more room for additional check-ins and departure gates.

Once the first phase is complete, the airport will be able to handle an extra seven million passengers per year. The second stage is scheduled to end in 2012, increasing the hub's annual capacity to between 30 million-35 million passengers.

EAST LINE Group has been responsible for the airport's operation since 1996. It holds a 75 year lease, although the runways are still controlled by the state.

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