Global airports need $2.4 trillion for new capital investments

Captain Rabiu Yadudu, Managing Director of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)

The global airport sector will need approximately $2.4 trillion in airport total capital investments to address the long-term trend in passenger demand to 2040, according to new forecasts by Airports Council International (ACI).

The forecasts – The Global Outlook of Airport Capital Expenditure – Meeting Sustainable Development Goals and Future Air Travel Demand – show significant investment in new greenfield airports, as well as significant investment to expand and maintain existing airport infrastructure is required. The study was supported by Hamad International Airport and developed in collaboration with Oxford Economics.

ACI notes the estimated decline in capital expenditure between the pre-COVID-19 baseline year of 2019 and the depth of the global COVID-19 lockdown (2020) is 33% or about $28 billion.

While capital investment partial recovery to about 14% (approximately $12 billion) below 2019 baseline is expected in 2021, ACI World believes that as air transport demand recovers to pre-pandemic levels, passenger demand will put increased pressure on airports’ infrastructure and failure to invest to address capacity needs will have real socio-economic consequences.

If longer term capacity constraints are not addressed through capital investment, ACI World estimates that a reduction of up to 5.1 billion passengers globally by 2040. For every million passengers airports cannot accommodate due to airport capacity constraints in 2040, 10,500 fewer jobs and $346 million less in Gross Domestic Product would be the result.

“Airport infrastructure is key to the continued development of air transport which supports millions of jobs and provides social and economic development for the global communities we serve,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said.

“Beyond the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, our focus is to provide sustainable long term growth for the industry which will need increased airport capital investment in new and optimized existing infrastructure, reasonable policies for the use of slots, and developments improving the economic, social, and environmental footprint of airports.

“ACI World’s CAPEX study shows the airport industry’s current financial shortfall poses significant challenges to the modernizing of infrastructure to improve sustainability and resilience which will be required if passenger demand into the future is to be met.

“In normal times, addressing the growth of passenger demand in the face of global airport capacity constraints already poses a significant challenge, but the pandemic has dramatically reduced airport revenues, adding even greater challenges to meeting long-term capacity needs.”

ACI World recently published its long term carbon goal whereby the world’s airports are committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. To realize this, additional green capital financing will be needed and ACI World believes that, to fully realize positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes, innovative approaches, appropriate incentives, and flexibility in organizing and securing financing, such as green bonds or public-private partnerships, are required.

“Governments will play an important role in supporting and incentivizing recovery and to mitigate the risks of falling short on Sustainable Development Goals linked to airports,” Luis Felipe de Oliveira said.

“This support could take the form of the development and access to renewal energy sources, reducing electricity purchase through energy efficiency measures, improving access to green financing instruments, adapting airport infrastructure to serve alternative fuel aircraft, or fostering the development of negative emission technologies.”

Regional breakdown

Asia-Pacific comprises about $1.3 trillion of reflecting the region’s rapid passenger growth and subsequent demand to develop new greenfield airports as well as to modernize and expand existing airport infrastructure. The Middle East is projected to need about $151 billion.

Europe’s $427 billion needs represent 18% of the 2021–2040 global total. More than half of this investment is expected in terminals to maintain and retrofit the region’s infrastructure.

North America’s $400 billion needed investment represents about 17% of the global total. Projections suggest that new greenfield airports are very minimal or unlikely, as airports have strong geographic coverage in the region.

Latin America-Caribbean’s need represents an investment of about $94 billion of which an estimated $41 billion will be needed in new greenfield development.

Africa’s needs exceed $32 billion with the pace of needed new greenfield airport investment representing nearly 40% of this.

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