For the first time in years, airline passenger traffic through Norwegian airports has logged a decline. The unexpected descent from sky-high levels is linked to the dive in oil prices and the subsequent slowdown in the Norwegian economy, and it may affect expansion plans at several Norwegian aiports.
The major expansion currently underway at Norway’s gateway airport, Oslo Lufthavn Gardermoen (OSL), will proceed as planned, state aviation officials told newspaper Aftenposten, as will expansion of Bergen’s main airport at Flesland. Oslo is now serving around 24 million a passengers a year and outgrew the new facilities that opened at Gardermoen in 1998.
All told, though, the state-owned agency Avinor that runs the country’s airports has reported that traffic through them declined 1.6 percent in the first quarter of this year. That compares to growth of nearly 5 percent in the same period last year, which was before oil prices suddenly and dramatically dropped in the summer of 2014.
Last year had produced the highest traffic numbers ever, with airline passenger counts surpassing 50 million. Now, the near-constant growth in airline passenger numbers has come to an abrupt halt, and in April, the numbers fell again. May, normally a strong month, saw growth of just 0.1 percent.
Avinor chief Dag Falk-Pedersen told Aftenposten that he’s still following the prognoses made by the state transportation economic institute, which predict the recent stagnation in passenger traffic will reverse and that airlines will see more growth. He’s not taking anything for granted, though, and warns that some airport expansion projects may be affected. Avinor already has launched a program to cut costs by around NOK 1.5 billion, which involves making airport operations more efficient and reducing staff. He does not want to raise fees charged to the airlines, for fear of discouraging introduction of new routes.
“Few could foresee the ripple effects of problems in the international oil industry,” Falk-Pedersen told Aftenposten. Far fewer executives and others working in the oil industry are traveling, and Falk-Pedersen said that “if the growth in the numbers of travelers doesn’t resume, it will be necessary to make new cuts. And then we must also re-evaluate construction projects that we have planned but haven’t started yet.”
They include expansion of Trondheim’s airport at Værnes, Tromsø’s airport at Langnes, Kristiansund’s airport at Kvernberget and the airport serving Harstad and Narvik at Evenes. Expansion of smaller airports with short runways at Ørsta/Volda and Stokmarknes may also be affected.
The value of expansion projects already underway amounts to around NOK 13.5 billion (USD 1.7 billion), while those on the drawing board but not yet approved are valued at NOK 12 billion. “We can still decide not to invest in those, by either stopping or postponing them,” Falk-Pedersen told Aftenposten. “I hope it won’t be necessary.”