European air travel has witnessed a tremendous evolution since the late 1990s following the liberalisation process, with many new entrants to the market. Several of these new entrants are low-cost carriers (LCCs), offering lower fares and thereby making air transport accessible to a larger number of people. This broader access and increased connectivity have the potential to bring people and regions closer together in Europe.
Against this background, the objective of the project was to understand to what extent, and through which channels, LCCs have contributed and can contribute to European integration. Relying on a mixed set of approaches including desk research and data analysis based on quantitative and qualitative data sources, the study initially set out the evolution of the air travel market in terms of the regulatory framework and economic principles. It then moved on to a mapping exercise showing the sharp increase in the number of air passengers carried over the last few decades and the large, yet still uneven, increases in seat capacity across Europe. The network of routes, thanks to point-to-point connections as the main focus of LCCs, has also expanded over time. Overall, the evidence from the literature and data analysis pointed to the enhancement of connectivity resulting from the entry of LCCs into the market.
As regards the channels through which LCCs can foster European integration, the study examined the significant increase in labour mobility, business travel, international student mobility and leisure tourism and their close links with corresponding developments in air travel and affordable fares in an expanded network of routes throughout Europe.
Qualitative data analysis based on LCC passenger interviews also revealed interesting travel patterns, reflecting a combination of personal preferences, family circumstances and career decisions. These results largely confirmed the quantitative analysis and findings from the literature highlighting the contribution of LCCs to European integration through various channels, e.g. labour mobility, business commuting, international student commuting and leisure/tourism travel, as identified and analysed in the study.