Bernie Baldwin

Well positioned to serve a distinct Dutch market, GRQ is eyeing up a selection of scheduled routes to complement its existing charter credentials and the nation’s air travel infrastructure.

“Two million people live in our 60-minute catchment area. Groningen Airport Eelde (GRQ) serves the northern half of The Netherlands and the German border area, so the fact that all other airports are at a 2-hour drive distance means we have an autonomous catchment area.” Jonas van Dorp, GRQ’s head of aviation marketing & development, emphasises the advantage of his airport’s location approximately 190 km from the nearest competing airports in Amsterdam, Bremen and Munster.

“With our average offerings in terms of routes/frequencies, in recent years we were able to serve a modest 160,000-200,000 annual passengers, predominantly on charter flights. These passengers choose GRQ because of distance (near their homes) and the fact that they want to fly from a small regional airport (convenience). Not taking into account the current Covid-19 crisis, we see an overall growing market within the Dutch airport system for leisure services here at GRQ,” van Dorp adds.

As mentioned, charter flights provide the majority of the traffic. Attracting regional services to link to a major hub is tricky. “All (Dutch) regional airports have the ambition to connect to international hubs. However, because we’re all in the ‘network shadow’ of one of the best served hubs of Europe, Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS), and the short distances from the regional airports to AMS, our role in the Dutch airport system is to complement, not to compete,” van Dorp explains. Besides this, I don’t think there will be an interest for operators of smaller aircraft that fit our market needs, to feed into the large hubs of AMS, CDG, FRA and LHR. These airports are too capacity restricted and therefore too expensive for smaller aircraft operators to serve.

“If a situation occurs in which there is no capacity left at AMS at all, we could see new interest of foreign hub carriers who wish to further grow their markets in the Netherlands, and steal traffic by serving a regional airport such as GRQ, which would most likely be serving secondary hubs. But taking into account the long-term effects of the current crisis, we think we are some years from that moment.

“We hope to re-establish the London connection when the market recovers and see business cases for services to Manchester or Copenhagen, not exclusively serving O&D but also connecting traffic,” he continues. “There are also new leisure market opportunities, for example a move into the Spanish mainland.

“Looking further into the future, we see two important developments amongst others that will enable us to attract more traffic. Firstly, when the market recovers, after a few years we will be back in a situation where airport capacity in The Netherlands will reach its limitations, as was the situation in February 2020, leading to a spill over to GRQ and others, starting with leisure traffic. That is fundamentally our role in the Dutch airport system, as it creates room for Schiphol to maintain and strengthen its position as a major international hub.

“Secondly, further into the future, we foresee that electric flying will open up more opportunities for regional airports to connect to other regional airports, under the condition that seat prices on such relatively small aircraft will be competitive. We aim to be at the forefront of this development,” van Dorp declares.