A few weeks ago, the EU Commission announced that the requirement for prior approval of public investment in regional airports was to be abolished. The decision makes it easier for the Swedish government to encourage Sweden's infrastructure to be digitised, made more cost-effective and accessible. This modernisation of airports in Sweden is highly valued and should be prioritised.
Gävle Airport was used extensively by public service providers such as medical care and land surveys before it was closed in 2016. Faced with the need for vital but expensive renovations and investment in technology, the municipality chose to shut down the business. Prior to that decision, the possibility of introducing so-called remote-controlled air traffic control had been discussed. This digital solution would have been cheaper than a total renovation but it was still considered too costly and the digitisation of Gävle Airport never took place.
Given the EU Commission's announcement that public investment into smaller airports will not need prior approval, government decision makers in Sweden now have the ability to help digitise regional airports and secure future aviation infrastructure on a broader scale.
But the initial investment required is still huge for small airports. The study showed that the cost and the financial risk of investing in the new technology were the major barriers to a more extensive launch of the new technology. Gävle is a good example where closing the airport was viewed as a better alternative. This then has a negative impact on access, infrastructure in the country and damaging socio-economic effects.
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The EU decision means that the government can easily take national responsibility for promoting good future infrastructure in the future by acquiring the technology and providing it to regional airports. An extensive part of the investment cost could then be recouped through the tax system. This does not mean that the government would own the regional airports, but rather that it provides the critical infrastructure that is difficult to acquire. In addition, the level of funding is negligible in comparison to other national infrastructure projects. The developments of regional airports can be part of other framework projects in the broader efforts on digitisation that are currently underway. A centralised technology procurement model would also lead to economies of scale.
Like all traffic systems, Aviation depends on a modern and efficient infrastructure. This provides both environmental and economic benefits to society. This is especially important for a sparsely populated and geographically large country like Sweden, where the smaller regional airports have an important role to play in society. Digitisation should benefit all parts of our country.
Anders Adrem is an aviation expert at PA Consulting Group