Potential Accessibility by air, Change of Relative Position of Regions, 2001-2006

Potential Accessibility by air, Change of Relative Position of Regions, 2001-2006

This month ESPON shows the territorial trends 2001-2006 in potential accessibility by air. The concept of potential accessibility enables to measure how easy (i.e. travel time) a region can be reached from other European regions by a certain transport mode. High accessibility is often considered a prerequisite for economic development, for attracting investors, increasing employment and building networks of cities.

In general, the highest level of potential accessibility is associated with the central regions of the European territory, in the so-called Pentagon (defined by the metropolises of London, Paris, Milan, Munich and Hamburg).

However, the territorial trends in air accessibility show that the traditional core-periphery pattern is dispersing concerning the accessibility by air. A more balanced picture is emerging, revealing a relative increase of the attractiveness and potentials for economic development in regions and cities outside the core area of Europe, and in particular in the EU Member States to the East.


Potential accessibility is calculated based on two elements: population in NUTS 3 regions and the effort (time, distance) to reach them. The accessibility model used by ESPON (1)  measures the minimum travel time by air between all NUTS 3 regions. Basically, for each NUTS 3 region the potential accessibility is calculated by summing up the population in all other European regions, weighted by the travel time to go to there (2). Potential accessibility describes how easy people in one region can reach people located in other European regions, in this case by air.

The calculation of the relative change in potential accessibility by air 2001-2006 is using a detailed air transport network with the scheduled flight connections between all European airports, including small regional airports and flight low-cost carriers.

The map shows with regard to accessibility by air which European regions are in a better/worse position in 2006 than in 2001 compared to the ESPON average. Thus, this map focuses on the change of the relative position of the regions and disregards the overall growth in accessibility. Regions improving their relative position between 2001 and 2006 (positive values) are shown in green colours and regions losing their relative position (negative values) are represented in yellow and reddish colours.


The map shows a patchwork of regions with high accessible regions surrounded by regions with low accessibility. Eastern European regions, Iceland, Greece, Cyprus and Malta show the highest relative increase in accessibility by air between 2001 and 2006. In addition, some regions in the Northern and Southern periphery in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Finland, Sweden and Norway have also improved their position compared to other European regions.

Capital regions in Europe in particular Dublin, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin have lost their relative position in comparative terms. In absolute terms, however, the capital regions still have the highest accessibility by air.

Considering the accessibility by air together with the latest trends in population development, most of the capital regions are facing an improvement on both factors. On the contrary, predominantly rural, remote regions (3), that have a negative trend in their accessibility by air 2001-2006, are in addition experiencing a population decrease during 2001-2005 having both negative natural and migratory balance. This “double” challenging situation, that can be found in Norway (Sogn og Fjordane), Sweden (Kalmar, Värsternorrlands and Jämtland), Romania (Botosani), Portugal (Douro) and Italy (Campobasso), seems currently to require particular attention in relation to the aim of territorial cohesion.

Finally, considering environmental objectives together with the territorial trends in air accessibility shows that, despite the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) giving priority to improving the rail performance, introducing the so-called motorways of the sea and improving inter-modality (air–rail passenger and rail–sea freight) in order to reduce CO2 emissions, the average accessibility by air between 2001 and 2006 has increased almost 8%. One factor explaining this development is the change of relative prices on the transport market with the expansion of low-cost carrier networks across Europe, which also motivated fare reductions by traditional carriers.


For accessibility by air, the traditional core-periphery picture of European is dispersing moving towards better territorial balance. Regions outside the European core area are showing considerable improvements in their relative position. Eastern Member States and some peripheral regions, located somewhat scattered in Europe and in particular in Italy, Spain and Nordic countries, have experienced important gains in accessibility by air compared to other European regions.

As good accessibility to and from a region or city is considered an important factor in the economic development and competitiveness of a location, these regions are improving their potential to be attractive for business investment and entrepreneurs. The territorial trends in the development of the air infrastructure between 2001 and 2006, in particular the substantive increase of low-cost services and airports, have mainly been to the benefit of regions outside the traditional European economic core.

(1) Based on Spiekermann and Wegener, 1996.
(2) In order to avoid artificial boundary effects, regions neighbouring Eastern Europe and the Western Balkan were also considered as destinations.
(3) DG Regio (2008) – Urban-rural Typology of NUTS 3 regions.