Regional Airports and Regional Development: Two Portuguese Case Studies
Air transport underwent profound changes in recent decades. Terrorism, political instability, the rise in oil prices, the financial crisis throughout the world, among other factors, caused an upheaval in the sector. Many airport facilities were privatized although others remained under public control, but all pursuing commercial purposes through specialization/diversification of its business models. If these models proved to be quite profitable for infrastructures above a certain traffic threshold, for the smaller ones, public funding proved indispensable to their survival.
Nevertheless, stockholders, including tourism organizations, began to see increased potential for regions, with investment realizations in regional airports. Tourism is one of the main beneficiaries of this new paradigm. In many regions where these projects are carried out, the regional tourism bodies and the private sector jointly leverage the whole process through strategic partnerships and the creation of funds for financing.
The small regional airports offer the potential to become the basis of regional air services improving the overall accessibility to remote areas, which, in turn, will provide considerable economic and social benefits to those regions. As recognized by the EU Committee on Regional Development, regional airports play a crucial role in the development of peripheral and outermost regions by increasing their connectivity.
Regional airports, especially when combined with a neighbour industrial, business or technology park, can be valuable assets in overall regional economic development of which tourism is a fundamental element. However, these regional airports often do not operate at full capacity since the surrounding tourism facilities and industrial parks lack the interest of investors, and vice versa.
This paper presents the Portuguese regional airports of Évora and Bragança, and illustrates two different development goals and models of attracting investments to develop regional airports, thus attracting air services and facilitating regional economic development, tourism in particular.
One (Bragança) oriented to increase the number of air passengers and planning to really contribute to tourism development of the region. The other (Évora), besides being a national reference on air sports activities, managed to attract an important aeronautical industry and is planning the cargo transportation in the long run. Both, implementing their plans can impact positively on the regional economy and boost the external image, thus attracting tourists.