The World Routes Congress which will be held at the Gran Via site in September seems custom made for Barcelona, given the increase in activity that its airport has seen in recent years. This event examines the problems and solutions that these vital infrastructure facilities have to face in the run up to 2020, and those of the companies that operate in them.

World Routes is a forum about the development of airways and will bring together around 3,000 delegates, with representatives of 300 airlines from all over the world, 700 airports and 130 tourism authorities. Around 110 countries will take part in this forum, which will take the opportunity to discuss the present and future of the airline business.

Seven times as many passengers

Some figures will help us to gauge the importance that air transport has acquired today. Like the internet and new technologies, it is impossible to understand business relations, tourism and economic growth without it: in 1973 there were just over 400 million passengers making national or international flights, but according to figures of the World Bank, this number has now grown to over 3,000 million. The number has therefore multiplied by seven.

There are between 8,000 and 13,000 planes flying at the same time around the world, and a workforce of between 48,000 and 78,000 crew members, male and female, working to transport some eight million passengers throughout the day.

Every year, Spain handles more than 230 million passengers, more than half of whom use the airports of Madrid, Barcelona and Palma, where most of this traffic is concentrated.

The questions raised

The experts meeting in Barcelona will tackle a number of issues that are all related with the sector. Besides all the technical issues to be discussed, there are a number of strategic aspects, such as whether airports can enjoy unlimited growth due to the demands of tourism, or how to handle the steady saturation of many facilities and whether sustainability criteria can be applied.

The congress will examine issues such as the impact of terrorism, Brexit, the Trump administration’s policies for admitting travellers, technology, the growth of demand in Asia, while Barcelona will be used as a case study to examine how port authorities and airport authorities can work together to ensure that cruise holidaymakers can be handled as efficiently as possible.

The force of El Prat

Barcelona-El Prat airport is currently going through a particularly good period. This infrastructure, with its fundamental importance for the economy, industry and conventional and business tourism sectors, ended 2016 with a record number of passengers, 44.1 million, which is an increase of 11% over the previous year. It is the seventh busiest airport in Europe and is emerging as a hub for intercontinental connections, with particular importance for passengers who travel on their own account.

In this sense, it is the second airport in Europe, trailing only behind Dublin. The decision to attract low cost airlines operating intercontinental flights has been rewarded by the opening of new routes to the United States and South America in June this year by Level and Norwegian, and there are new plans to expand to the other side of the globe.

The Committee for Developing Airways for Barcelona (CDRA), which includes the Regional Government (Generalitat de Catalunya), Barcelona City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and AENA, has been working since 2005 to open intercontinental connections for El Prat. It now has connections to 44 cities in 25 countries, but there is still much work to be done.

Intercontinental flights are very important for the activities of Fira de Barcelona, because they would increase the presence of international visitors. The holding of major events such as trade fairs is also an incentive for companies to open these same transoceanic routes.