The Italian airport system does not just consist of Malpensa and Fiumicino. In addition to the big hubs, there are many small airports that, despite their size, represent a valuable resource for Italy with potential yet to be expressed.

Let’s look at some figures. Passengers at virtually all medium and small airports (i.e., under 15 million annual passengers) grew significantly in 2022. A really interesting trend, according to Assaeroporti’s analysis, which sees precisely the smaller airports growing most robustly.

Consider that Linate and Bari, classified as airports between 5 and 15 million annual passengers, have seen growth of more than 11%; while airports under 5 million annual passengers have seen growth of up to 13%. But it is the “micro” airports that are the real surprise, with even triple-digit growth rates: Bolzano, Foggia and Trapani exceeded 100% growth over pre-pandemic figures.

The reasons? They are ports of call that are located in mountainous or seaside areas, which are particularly attractive from a tourism point of view. A strength that makes them an additional ally in promoting the development of areas of the country still underserved by ground transportation today. Local airports can, in fact, be the engine of change involving smaller entities with significant room for growth. This observation can open up interesting avenues for considering direct investments in improving this type of infrastructure.

However, the opportunity is not only reflected in terms of potential, it is also a priority in terms of local and national development. In this sense, as with any other type of investment, time is a variable that needs to be carefully evaluated, because major infrastructure interventions require non-negligible technical time. Consider, for example, the lead time for a project such as Masterplan 2035 (the Malpensa expansion plan) and the enormous impact, not only economically but also socially, that comes with a target of more than 10 years away, 2035 to be exact.

On the other hand, the 62 “micro” airports scattered across the Italian territory have the great advantage of already being operational and, therefore, would require only limited technical adjustments of the existing one, which is easily achievable. This would bring development opportunities, and therefore wealth, to local communities, without excessive impacts on the territory. I am referring to interventions such as the adaptation of runways, the integration of the most advanced technological tools, and the enlargement of hangars or reception areas. This is certainly a less costly choice, in terms of money and time, which, indeed, could encourage the emergence of airlines dedicated to local – more capillary – connections to destinations not covered by traditional commercial airlines.

What may come as a surprise, and perhaps not widely known, is that travel by local aviation is not necessarily a service geared only to high-end customers, but can also be an affordable alternative for “consumer” customers who need to travel to areas that are currently underserved by public ground transportation, but are attractive for their tourist, artistic, and cultural offerings or, again, for business opportunities.

In conclusion, making the transportation network we already have more efficient is a low cost, low time, low effort solution. And also low risk, if well designed.

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