With the Swedish economy one of the fastest growing in Europe, it’s no wonder that Swedavia’s airports are enjoying record traffic. Aviation director Elizabeth Axtelius tells Future Airport how a range of new routes alongside increased interest from Chinese and US passengers have catalysed growth.

A quick glance at Swedavia’s figures for 2015 leaves no doubt that the operator is right to label it a record year. Of the group’s ten airports, seven exceeded previous totals for passenger traffic, numbers overall were up 5% compared with 2014, and 37.5 million people flew to or from one of the group’s airports.

However, according to aviation director Elizabeth Axtelius, a story of an even greater growth is concealed in the figures. "In 2014, we had growth of 6.8% for all of our airports – so you can see that last year’s increase was a little bit less," she says. "This is because we didn’t have much new capacity at the airport, and what we saw last year was that growth in demand outstripped growth in capacity," she says.

"This year, we have more capacity and we are expecting demand to grow as well, so that the overall growth will actually be higher. So far this year we have had a growth of 6.1%."

Swedavia is also investing heavily in the airport: a new pier will be ready in 2020 while the capital spending for terminal development until 2043 is forecast at $1.5 billion for operational excellence and commercial offerings. In addition to the development at the airport itself, construction of a new ‘airport city’, with hotels and office buildings, is beginning to take shape.

US and them

With a strong Swedish economy, buoyant domestic traffic has of course played its part, but Axtelius is most excited about the, much more significant, growth from further afield.

"More Swedes are travelling abroad, and they are prioritising travel, but we’re also seeing rapid growth in the number of international visitors coming to Sweden. We’re seeing, for example, that the growth from the US is greater than growth from within Sweden."

Indeed, at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, traffic to and from the US has increased 60% within the past three years – twice as fast as any other international traffic. Norwegian has opened five new routes to the US. Other route developments, such as the non-stop to Los Angeles launched by Scandinavian Airlines in March this year, have stimulated interest and traffic, but Axtelius sees potential for greater increases in future.

"Two destinations we would like to see more flights to are Boston and Washington, and we also see a possibility that Norwegian will increase frequency of its US services, meaning more traffic to Oakland and San Francisco," she says. "There is also a big opportunity for a US carrier to serve the market by launching a new route to a large hub city, like Philadelphia."

Stockholm Arlanda’s recent approval by US customs and border protection to introduce preclearance will also nurture US routes, making the passenger experience smoother for non-stop and outgoing connecting flights.

Eastern promise

But it’s not just US activity that is a cause for excitement – 13 new intercontinental routes launched from Arlanda since 2014, and some of the most significant of these have been to Asia and the Middle East.

The Emirates route to Dubai, for example, as well as more flights into Stockholm by Qatar Airways, have increased traffic to the UAE, but also to and from Asia. India, in particular, is a source of growth, with state-owned tourist board Visit Sweden identifying the country as a major market.

"Indian tourists are one of the fastest-growing passenger groups for us, but we’re also seeing more skilled professionals coming to Sweden to work – from India’s large IT sector, for example," Axtelius says. "Many small or mid-sized Swedish companies are also entering or expanding within the Indian market, and we expect this growth to continue."

With no direct routes from Sweden to India at present, here too lies a gap in the market airlines may wish to fill.

Meanwhile, the direct route to Hong Kong launched by SAS from Stockholm Arlanda is capitalising upon increased interest from China. Stockholm Arlanda is currently the only Nordic airport served by a Chinese carrier, and it relaunched itself as a ‘Chinese-friendly airport’ last year as part of a project to ensure arrivals were well catered for within food and beverage, signage, navigation and other linguistic environments such as the website and Wi-Fi portal.

It is now set to benefit from a further exchange of cultural awareness as part of an agreement made with Chinese operator CAH in February to establish a sister- airport relationship between Arlanda and Beijing Capital International Airport.

With many such developments centred around Stockholm Arlanda, Swedavia is making clear its confidence in a city recently identified as the fastest-growing in Europe.

"We say that Stockholm is the capital of Scandinavia, and I believe the airport will be the leader in this region in future," Axtelius says. "New traffic of course creates opportunities, and the airport will very much be the growth engine of the region. Arlanda is perfectly located between Stockholm and Uppsala, and we hope to see more new non-stop destinations and more airlines coming in to welcome new customers.