The challenge for airports and civil aviation in 2022 is to restart after the peak of the Covid-19 emergency in the previous two years. The decline in infections and easing health restrictions have restored confidence in air travel to Italy, in the first three months of the year. Despite concerns related to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the recovery of domestic traffic and the restart of European connectivity have brought passenger volumes back to 70 percent (9.8 million) in Italy, compared to 2019.
But how can the recovery be consolidated? What approach will be needed in light of what has happened? How can the challenges of sustainability and innovation be met? From markets to green energy, from drones to intermodal systems, we spoke about it with Monica Scarpa, CEO of the SAVE Group, an airport hub comprising four airports on a 200-kilometre line in northeastern Italy: Marco Polo of Venice, Canova of Treviso, Catullo of Verona and Montichiari of Brescia.
A comparison of passenger volumes between March 2022 and March 2019 still indicated -31.4% Treviso (197 thousand passengers), -38.9% Verona (135 thousand) and -40.7% Venice (479 thousand). But the airport infrastructure is an important asset for the Veneto region, which with 69.2 million presences pre-pandemic (2018, Istat data), it was the top tourism region in Italy.
Dr. Scarpa, how is the recovery progressing?
"Recovery of the traffic came into full swing in 2022: in the first quarter, the passenger volume of the three airports corresponded to about 60 percent of the passengers recorded in the first quarter of 2019. Marco Polo is projected to reach 80 percent in the summer season from April to October, and 90 percent in the last quarter. At Venice, the third domestic intercontinental airport, connections to North America are returning. In an effort to differentiate, Treviso is a base for Ryanair flights, while Verona has a specialisation on chartering. For all ports of call, the first signs of recovery in the domestic market were evident as early as 2021."
How does the war between Russia and Ukraine affect it?
"There is a settling of the market, which considers to a lesser extent the expected contribution from the countries of the former Soviet Union. The geopolitical situation has inhibited Russian carrier traffic, in any case already marred by the non-recognition of the Sputnik vaccine for entry into Italy. That market has not recovered, but it does not weigh on the group's numbers."
Do airports play a role in increasing the average stay? In what sense do we need to 'work as a system' for the recovery of tourism?
“Absolutely: tourism carried by air traffic brings so much more wealth when the visitors arrive from afar. This is especially true for an airport with intercontinental flights like Venice, from where visitors can travel to a region where there are as many as nine UNESCO sites. 'Working as a system' is even more necessary in the face of unforeseen crises such as the Covid-19 epidemic: to stimulate the recovery of the incoming and outgoing market, coordinated actions are needed that take into account the specificities of the offer. The gradual process of dehubbing then plays into the hands of point-to-point flights, particularly long-haul flights, which make it possible to shorten consumption, time and costs."
How does SAVE aim to achieve zero emissions by 2030?
"We have plans on several areas, among them the gradual adoption of renewable energy, with, in particular, the transition of the power supply of the trigeneration plant at Marco Polo from fossil fuel to a CO₂-free energy carrier, as well as the use of photovoltaic panels, electric vehicles within the airport grounds, and the development of intermodality through direct connection with the rail system. For years, however, the way we have been planning the development of our airports has been oriented toward sustainability."
What does the hydrogen collaboration with Snam and Airbus involve?
"One of the biggest challenges in using hydrogen as a fuel is to generate economies of scale that make it possible to lower its cost. In this sense, airports are ideal infrastructures for the study and use of hydrogen. The proximity to the Porto Marghera area, where a Hydrogen Park is planned to be built, makes the Venice airport particularly strategic, a privileged stopover for the development of an efficient end-to-end supply chain to be realised also through collaboration with Snam and Airbus."
How are you developing the Urban Air Mobility project for e-Vtol mobility?
"The use of drones is an important step for the intermodality of the future, which I believe will be air-to-air. With Aeroporti di Roma and the airports of Nice and Bologna, we have initiated the Urban Blue project, and in Venice we are already working on the design of a vertiport and a network of connections between the airports we manage, working with Enac and Enav to develop this green mode of transport, taking into account the regulatory aspects that concern, first and foremost, the density of inhabited areas that will be flown over by the drones."
And will we get to the 2026 Olympics in Cortina by drone?
"You can already get to Cortina today by helicopter, but there is a cost issue. Technology is making great strides, and drones will enable diversification in mobility solutions with increasing accessibility. Our goal is to launch the first experimental activities in 2024, leading to offering a range of services in 2026. We are also working on the future use of drones for medical transportation to Padua and for connection with the port of Chioggia."
In Veneto, there is also talk of Hyperloop, which is expected to reach Venice Tessera...
"I like challenges, but let's consider that at the Venice airport there is already an intermodal connection with the railway system, the work on which will begin in 2023, with expected completion at the end of 2025. Evolving technologies are presenting us with increasingly cost-competitive solutions, as in the case of drones, which imply the creation of inexpensive infrastructure, unlike that required for the Hyperloop."