Milan’s critical mass set to drive point-to-point recovery

The CEO of World Routes 2021 host SEA Milan Airports is confident airlines will be attracted back to Lombardy.

SEA Milan Airports CEO Armando Brunini has expressed confidence that the city’s large catchment area will generate strong point-to-point traffic in the future, helping the region recover from the pandemic-inflicted downturn.

Brunini, who is CEO of both Malpensa (MXP) and Linate (LIN), said Linate has fared better during the crisis thanks to its focus on domestic and short-haul intra-European flights. Services within Italy have performed particularly well this summer season as passenger numbers have outstripped pre-pandemic totals.

But Brunini expects intercontinental traffic at Malpensa to return in robust fashion over the coming years thanks to the Lombardy region’s catchment area of some 10 million inhabitants.

“In the next years, airlines need to select the network where there is a critical mass [of passengers], which is important. And Milan offers this critical mass,” he said.

However, Brunini does not believe Italia Trasporto Aereo (ITA), the successor to Italian flag-carrier Alitalia, to use Milan Malpensa as a hub.

“ITA will be half of the size it was before the pandemic and the presence of ITA at [MXP] will be from small to zero,” Armando Brunini told Routes on the sidelines of the recent Aviation-Event 2021 in Bologna, Italy.

“Maybe Linate will be a kind of an ITA mini hub,” Brunini said. “Theoretically it is not impossible to do that.”

“Malpensa was actually designed to be a hub for Alitalia a long time ago,” Brunini said, “[but] Alitalia changed its mind in those days and MXP was never its hub, but this is history.” 

World Routes 2021

With millions of jobs and national economies dependent on a strong restart of the air transport sector, World Routes 2021 will offer an opportunity for the route development community to reunite and redefine the world’s route networks.

In 2021, SEA Milan Airports’ performance is improving compared to last winter when the pandemic’s effects were particularly acute. “Basically, we operate with 40% less capacity compared to pre-COVID times,” Brunnini said. 

He noted that pre-COVID, Malpensa had connections to 70 countries. “Twenty-five percent of the passenger volume was intercontinental and that was generated without a [local] hub carrier. That means, MXP is a really large point-to-point gateway,” Brunini said. 

Intercontinental services—mainly driven by flag-carriers—are one of SEA Milan Airports’ main businesses. “This is quite exposed,” Brunini said. 

When asked how corporate travel volume to Italy’s business capital will recover post-pandemic, the CEO said: “We have to be very humble. The scenario is changing all the time. There will be a percentage less in business traffic.” Nevertheless, he was bullish on the city’s prospects. 

When asked about the main difficulty SEA Milan Airports faces Brunini said: “We are sandwiched. Our airports have to recover from the pandemic, and we have to become more sustainable. That’s the challenge.” 

Photo credit: Getty Images/Vonkara1