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European airports celebrate 20th anniversary of EU enlargement showcasing key aviation benefits


Two decades after EU expansion, air connectivity and traffic data point to enhanced cohesion and integration on the back of robust demand for air travel

BRUSSELS – Europe’s airports join the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the biggest EU enlargement to date by presenting data on the virtuous circle of closer integration driving air travel demand, in turn enhancing societal cohesion across Europe.

On 1 May 2004, ten countries joined the European Union as newly minted Member States, including Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This landmark wave of accession expanded the EU community in terms of population (+20%), territory covered (+18%) and GDP (+9%). New analysis from ACI Europe points to the benefits extending to air connectivity as well. The period after EU enlargement was marked by a continued convergence between the initial 15 EU Member States (EU15) and the new 10 accession Member States (A10) in terms of demand for air travel.

Joining the EU played a pivotal role in the growth of air travel in accession countries resulting in fast expanding air connectivity and a much higher growth rate of passengers compared to EU15 countries.

  • From air connectivity standpoint, the enlargement has brought Europe’s airports and their communities much closer. According to ACI Europe’s Connectivity Index, direct air connectivity of the A10 countries has surged by +85% since accession, while EU15 Member States continued to post connectivity gains at a steadier pace (+32%). This boosted their economic performance as every 10% increase in direct connectivity of a country yields a +0.5% increase in GDP per capita.
  • From 2004 to 2019, air travellers surged by +215% in accession countries, as EU15 countries continued to grow at a slower pace (+77%) indicating their market maturity prior to enlargement. This dynamic growth in the accession countries is attributed to factors that were bolstered by the enlargement, such as economic development and convergence, infrastructure improvements, alignment of operational and service standards and increased integration into the EU market.
  • By 2019, the ratio of population to air passengers in accession countries had decreased to 0.59 compared to 2.31 pre-accession – just shy of the EU15 ratio of 0.26. The significant decrease1 in this ratio across the new EU Member States boosted cohesion across the EU bloc as more EU citizens had access to air travel.

Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe Director General commented: “Today we celebrate the European project and the important milestone in its progress that was the 2004 enlargement. Aviation has played a crucial role in enabling the essential EU freedoms: the freedom of movement and the freedom to provide services. This means aviation has been developing closer ties, driving convergence and boosting economies in the newly expanded bloc over the last two decades. The dynamic expansion of air connectivity and growth in  passenger numbers  resulted in a virtuous circle as more integration triggered more demand for air travel, which in turn further strengthened the social and economic fabric of the Union and contributed to its cohesion.”

He added: “This positive track record is particularly relevant in the context of today’s challenging geopolitical environment which has given impetus to a new wave of EU enlargement. The data we share today is a positive signal for the 9 candidate countries2 and indeed for the EU bloc as a whole as it eyes further expansion. This also means sustainable and competitive air connectivity must remain a top priority for the EU in the next 5-year political cycle – for passengers, communities and the Planet.”

ACI Europe delivered a set of strategic recommendations and policy asks to the EU institutions on transport policy last January – focused on 3 key priorities:

  1. Enabling the effective decarbonisation of aviation – while preserving the socio-economic benefits of air connectivity.
  2. Safeguarding and reinforcing the integrity of the Single Aviation Market.
  3. Enabling resilient, digitised and green airports.



1  A decrease in the ratio of population to the number of passengers denotes an increase of passengers in absolute terms. 



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Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.

She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.