Environmental group Transport and Environment (T&E) has called upon the Airport Council International (ACI) Europe to close small unprofitable regional airports in Europe, those with one million passengers per annum or less, to protect taxpayers from ‘duplicated’ services and reduce needless emissions.

Challenging the idea, ACI Europe has replied saying that T&E had misinterpreted the EU Guidelines on State Aid for the aviation sector and disregarded the value of air connectivity, calling it an ‘unsubstantiated analysis’.

ACI Europe said regional airports helped to increase air connectivity with services such as air ambulances adding that over the past decade, small regional airports have witnessed 42.1% growth in air connectivity.

Nevertheless, T&E  maintain that using taxpayer’s money to duplicate airport services is not appropriate. T&E’s aviation manager Andrew Murphy said: “ACI continues to advocate for blank cheques from taxpayers in order to subsidise their loss-making airports.

“However as our report finds, such subsidies are providing dubious benefits in terms of connectivity, often they are providing duplicative services, as was identified in L’Occitaine region where a series of publicly funded loss-making airports were servicing the same routes to northern Europe.

“Public money should be used to ensure connectivity, but blanket support for duplicative services is not the appropriate means. Other mechanisms, such as Public Service Obligations, are more targeted tools and will ensure better use of taxpayer money.

“ACI claimed that such airports only reflect a small share of the sector’s emissions, however state aid to these airports is having a sector-wide effect, artificially driving down prices for all operators and therefore stimulating induced demand, ultimately increasing emissions.”

Murphy stressed that national authorities must take an active step to determine which airports are potentially profitable and which should stop receiving financial support altogether. “Regional authorities have largely been left to their own devices, resulting in this proliferation of funding,” Murphy said.

The ACI confirm that regional airports have a high cost and lower revenue per passenger, and that 71% of those airports are loss-making within a five-year period. Because of this the EU guidelines recognise the need to provide aid to small airports struggling with profitability.

Given that small airports make up 3% of the total EU traffic, it would have a minimal effect in reducing carbon emissions, the ACI said.

ACI Europe’s statement also said that small regional airports play an important role in regional development, specifically for societal coherence. A spokesperson said in a statement: “Calling for the closure of all small regional airports on account that they are structurally not profitable as T&E does would not only isolate but also alienate regional communities, with considerable economic, social, political negative impacts.”

T&E disagreed with this, with Murphy adding: “Some certainly play an important role and will continue to require support. However, many airports currently receiving public support are providing limited regional benefits and instead only adding to runaway emission’s growth from the sector.”