Routes Europe brings aviation professionals and authorities together to plan new flights and strengthen existing routes. The event revolves around prescheduled meetings, an exhibition and a conference programme featuring some of the most senior figures in the European industry. It travels to a new location every year to highlight different destinations and markets.

City of culture

Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country – an autonomous region in northern Spain with its own culture, language and identity. Its varied landscape includes the Pyrenees and Basque Mountains, Bay of Biscay, coastal towns and villages, the Rioja Alavesa wine region and the industrial surroundings of Bilbao.

Situated on an estuary south of the Bay of Biscay, Bilbao was a thriving port and the industrial heart of the region until it fell into decline in the late 20th century. The opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997 marked the beginning of the city’s regeneration, and Bilbao is a remarkably different place to visit today.

It’s unique character and largely undiscovered attractions offer a high-quality alternative to more established destinations. The medieval quarter, Casco Viejo, provides a fascinating contrast to Bilbao’s post-industrial edge and the titanium shields of the Guggenheim. Its Seven Streets (Siete Calles) are full of boutiques, bakeries and bars. Bilbao is famed for its Michelin-starred restaurants and will host the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in 2018.

A popular destination

The growth in tourism is reflected in the constant rise in traffic levels at Bilbao Airport, which handled 4.58 million passengers in 2016 – 7.3% more than in 2015. Overall, the volume of domestic departure seats increased by 13.2% in 2017, while the number of international departure seats rose by 6.0%.

The top two routes from Bilbao with the most capacity in 2017 are domestic – to Barcelona-El Prat and Madrid-Barajas – but the airport is increasingly adding new destinations to its route map.

In November 2017, low-cost carrier Volotea confirmed plans to open a base in Bilbao in 2018 and launch four new routes from the airport. Three of the four planned routes – to Vienna, Malta and Palermo – are currently unserved. A new route to Malaga is also being launched, while the airline will increase capacity on existing flights to Seville, Venice, Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza.

Other new routes include Royal Air Maroc’s Casablanca to Bilbao service, which will operate three times a week from next summer, and Vueling’s Granada service from December 2017.

Traffic is also growing at the region’s two smaller airports, Donostia-San Sebastián and Vitoria-Gasteiz (cargo). Together with the ports of Bilbao and Pasaia (near San Sebastián), the three airports form a significant logistics centre that connects the Basque Country to the rest of Europe.

Event exhibitors

Airlines that have already signed up for the event include bmi Regional, British Airways, Eurowings, easyJet, Finnair, Iberia, Icelandair, Jet2, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Lufthansa, Norwegian, SAS Scandinavian Airlines and Wizz Air.

They will be joined by airports including AENA, Budapest Airport, Dublin Airport, Hamburg Airport, Manchester Airports Group, Marseille Provence Airport, Munich Airport, St Petersburg Airport and Zurich Airport.

The airline and airport organisations from outside Europe include AirAsia, Delta Air Lines, Detroit Metro Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, United Airlines, Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority and WestJet.

Airline representatives will take part in the event’s conference programme, giving briefings for airports and tourism authorities that want to learn more about airline route planning. There will also be panel discussions, talks and presentations about the latest issues and challenges facing the European aviation industry.

Routes Europe 2018 will be hosted by the Basque Government and Basquetour at Bilbao Exhibition Centre. Around 100 airlines, 300 airports and 50 tourism authorities are expected to have registered by the time the event takes place.

The Basque Country’s Minister of Tourism, Trade and Consumer Affairs, Alfredo Retortillo, said: “We are going to offer you our genuine hospitality, ancient traditions, modernity reflected in the titanium shields of the Guggenheim Museum and, last but not least, some of the most Michelin-starred gastronomy in the world.”

Routes Europe 2018 takes place on 22–24 April at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, Bilbao, Basque Country.