Antwerp and Ostend airports report steady growth, despite profitability concerns

Ostend and Antwerp airports, the largest regional airports in Flanders, have reported a steady increase in passenger numbers in 2023, as well as plans for further growth in the coming years. Until recently, the future of both airports was in doubt due to their high subsidy costs and lack of profitability.

After much debate, the Flemish government decided in December 2022 to keep the airports of Antwerp, Ostend-Bruges and Kortrijk-Wevelgem open. However, a cost-benefit analysis had previously shown that closing the three airports by 2030 would have been the most profitable scenario, as the government would no longer have to provide subsidies.

Since then, Antwerp and Ostend airports have continued to expand and are now reporting an increase in passenger traffic.

New airline and destinations

Antwerp welcomed 259,764 passengers in its anniversary year 2023, the airport said in a press release on Tuesday. "A new airline and five new destinations in our offer are proof of the growing popularity of our airport," said Eric Dumas, CEO of both Ostend and Antwerp airports. "In addition, investments have been made with a positive impact on emissions and noise."

Antwerp airport is hoping to reach the 300,000 passenger mark this year to match the 2019 level.

Ostend also saw an increase in passenger numbers last year. With 386,000 passengers, there was an increase of 4.6 per cent compared to 2022, the airport reported on Monday. Cargo traffic, however, was down.

From 25 January to 27 March, Ostend Airport will be closed due to renovation work on the runway and taxiway. "From the end of March, we will be ready to welcome our passengers again and look forward to a successful continuation of our operations," Dumas said.

Not profitable

At the beginning of last year, analysis showed that it was impossible for the Flemish regional airports to become profitable without "extreme traffic growth". Passenger numbers at Antwerp would have to increase fivefold by 2040 to make operations profitable. In Ostend, passenger numbers would have to increase sixfold to 3 million.

In addition to Flemish subsidies, the airports receive around 9 million euros in federal subsidies each year. The Flemish green party, Groen, has argued that "it is completely irrational for the Flemish government to pump millions of euros of taxpayers' money into a loss-making, redundant airport for air traffic within its borders", while pointing out that around 72 per cent of all flight movements registered at Antwerp airport are domestic.


#FlandersNewsService | Passengers at Ostend-Bruges Airport © BELGA PHOTO ROBBE VANDEGEHUCHTE

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