Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling Airlines has played a key role in the return to growth of Bilbao Airport, the largest facility in the Basque Country and northern Spain. The airline will this year offer over one million departure seats from the airport, the main gateway into the recently announced host city for Routes Europe in 2018, and in the process will allow Bilbao Airport to report record traffic levels.
The airport, famous for its sleek terminal building designed by Spanish neofuturistic architect, structural engineer, sculptor and painter, Santiago Calatrava Valls, reported a second successive year of year-on-year traffic growth in 2015 and fifth rise in the past six years. However, significant declines in 2009 and 2013 due to the loss of flights from Alitalia (the airline subsequently returned in 2013), Ryanair and Spanair, mean the airport has failed to recover to the record traffic levels recorded in the last decade.
This was achieved in 2007 when the airport handled 4.28 million passengers. Last year’s 4.27 million passenger figure came close to breaking the record following a 6.5 percent growth versus the previous year, but capacity growth of 2.2 percent in 2016, according to current published schedules, will almost certainly mean a new record will be achieved this year.
Vueling has grown its activities at Bilbao by six-fold over the last ten years from around 162,000 departure seats in 2006 to almost 995,000 in 2015. This expansion, which has seen its network grow from just four destinations to 30, saw it overtake Iberia as Bilbao’s largest operator in 2011. It will offer 1.01 million seats from the city this year, according to data from schedules intelligence provider, OAG.
The Spanish carrier is among a number of low-cost carriers that have firmly put Bilbao on the European map. However, over recent years the destination has secured important new hub connectivity from the arrival of network carriers such as British Airways (to London from 2015), Turkish Airlines (to Istanbul from 2012), KLM (to Amsterdam from 2014), Swiss European Air Lines (to Zurich from 2015), Czech Airlines (to Prague from 2015). This year, Lufthansa, easyJet, British Airways, KLM, TAP Portugal, Aer Lingus, Swiss, Eurowings and Czech Airlines are all offering more seats in and out of Bilbao Airport.
The hosting by the Basque Government and Basquetour of Routes Europe will support Bilbao and the wider Basque Country’s economy by bringing the aviation industry to this distinct part of the world. Not only will the event present the opportunity to showcase Bilbao Airport, but also the region’s smaller airports, San Sebastián (which has a new Air Nostrum Iberia Regional route to London Luton launching this summer) and Victoria-Gastiez (a mainly freight facility), will also be brought to the attention of Europe’s aviation industry.