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Air Transportation and Regional Economic Development: A Case Study for the New Airport in South Albania

CID Research Fellow and Graduate Student Working Paper No. 127

Shreyas Gadgin Matha, Patricio Goldstein, and Jessie Lu
June 2020


Considering the case of the proposed airport in Vlora, South Albania, this report analyzes the channels through which a new greenfield airport can contribute to regional economic development. In December 2019, the Government of Albania opened a call for offers to build a new airport in the south of the country. While there is evidence indicating that the airport could be commercially viable, this does not provide a grounded perspective on the channels by which the airport could boost the regional economy. To evaluate how the new airport would interact with existing and potential economic activities, this report evaluates three of the most important channels of impact by which the airport could serve as a promoter: (1) economic activities directly related to or promoted by airports, (2) the airport’s potential contribution to the region’s booming tourism sector and (3) the potential for the country’s development of air freight as a tool for export promotion. In each of these three cases, the report identifies complementary public goods or policies that could maximize the airport’s impact in the region.

The operation of the airport itself could stimulate a series of economic activities directly related to air traffic services. Airports have the ability to mold the economic structure of the places immediately around them, acting both as a consumer and as a supplier of air transport services. Not only activities related to transportation and logistics thrive around airports, but also a variety of manufacturing, trade, and construction industries. Nevertheless, the agglomeration benefits of a successful aerotropolis are not guaranteed by the construction of an airport. For South Albania’s new airport to actualize its potential returns, integrated planning of the airport site will be required, with focus on real estate planification and provision of complementary infrastructure.

Establishing an airport in Vlora has the potential to spur regional development in South Albania through facilitating the growth of the tourism sector and its related activities. Albania’s tourism industry has seen strong growth in the last two decades, but still lags behind its potential. Albania only has a strong penetration in the tourism market of its neighboring markets, and the high seasonality of the tourism season further limits the sector’s growth. The establishment of an airport in South Albania would ease some of the tourism industry constraints tied to transportation into the country and region. Given the high reliance of the tourism industry on its many complementary inputs, more than one area of concern may have to be addressed for the impact of the new airport to be maximized. Facilitating transportation access around the South Albania region and specifically to tourist sites; preparing natural and cultural heritage sites for tourism use and expanding tourism infrastructure to accommodate potential growth are some of the interventions analyzed.

Airfreight infrastructure could in theory provide opportunities to improve the competitiveness of Albanian exports but developing a successful air cargo cluster is no simple task. An airport can facilitate an alternative mode of transport for specific types of goods and hence promote a country’s exports. In Albania’s case, not only existing textile and agriculture products could be competitively exported through air freight, but also air freight itself could improve Albania’s position to diversify into “nearby” industries, identified by the theory of Economic Complexity. Nevertheless, an effective air freight strategy does not and cannot uniquely depend on the simple availability of a nearby airport. Air cargo operations require both traffic volume that Albania may not be able to provide, as well as complementary cargo-specific infrastructure. Although the potential for air freight in South Albania could be high, it is by no means a safe bet nor does it imply with certainty a significant impact in the immediate future.