High Speed Rail vs. Airplane: The Italian Case

The development of High-Speed Rail (HSR) has presented a critical threat to the once very profitable Milan Linate – Rome Fiumicino route. Let’s have a look at how the dynamics of this traffic have been changing over the past few years.

HSR vs. Airplane

Bad news for the Italian new national carrier, ITA Airways. The Milan Linate – Rome Fiumicino connection, once Alitalia’s most relevant domestic route, now seems to have lost the fight against high-speed rail competition. Between 2003 and 2005, 2.4m people flew between the two cities, i.e., 10% of the total Italian domestic market. In 2021, the percentage fell to less than 2%.

In 2009, the newly privatised Alitalia had increased capacity on the route to a total of 60 daily connections between the two airports. Consequently, in 2013 both easyJet and Ryanair introduced a flight between Milan and Rome. However, after a short trial period, both LCCs decided to suspend operations on the route because it was considered economically unsustainable. Indeed, when the two low-cost carriers launched the route, it had already lost relevance in the Italian domestic market. It represented 5% of the total domestic traffic, and yearly passenger volumes had contracted to 1.4m.

The advent of the HSR

With the advent of the HSR, Freciarossa, and Italo, the traffic in the skies between Milan and Rome progressively started to contract. Indeed, 2009 was the last year that the Linate-Fiumicino route was the busiest domestic connection in Italy, with Alitalia carrying 1.7m passengers. 2018 was the last year that saw more than 1 million people flying between the two Italian cities, while 2021 registered the lowest traffic figure, with the route representing just 1.7% of the domestic market traffic.

Alitalia EJ75 taxiing. @ Gaetano Spataro / Travel Radar
Alitalia EJ75 taxiing. @ Gaetano Spataro / Travel Radar

Alitalia and the air shuttle service

In 2018, Alitalia, the sole carrier offering the connection, generated €97.7m in revenues from operating the route. Nonetheless, the airline reported an operating loss of €9m. So, what was the rationale for operating that route? First, business traffic travels between the nation’s commercial and political hubs. Second, the route was essential in feeding passengers through the Rome hub. For instance, in 2018, the Linate-Fiumicino connection generated €50m of “feeder value”.

Which role will Linate play in the future?

As for now, the Delrio decree regulates and limits the operations of the Milan city airport. In light of the changes in the domestic and European aviation industry, the Italian government has asked the EU Commission for the go-ahead to modify the decree to develop a future plan for the airport.

For instance, the government plans to eliminate the rule that prohibits flights from Linate to cities in countries that are not members of the EU. Particularly, the idea is to allow connections from Linate to destinations outside of the EU and within the 1,500 km. This rule would overcome the inability to operate direct flights from Linate to the UK starting in November 2022. Moreover, new connections with countries outside the EU, such as Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Tunisia, and Algeria, would be possible.

What do you think of the threat of HSR to the aviation industry? Let us know in the comments below! 



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Giacomo Amati
Giacomo Amati
Aviation Reporter - Giacomo has been passionate about commercial aviation since his very childhood. Currently, he is pursuing a Master in Air Transport Management at the University of Surrey, UK. His expertise within the industry entails an internship with Emirates Airlines in Milan Malpensa airport and a bachelor's thesis on the financial status of the former Italian national carrier, Alitalia. Besides aviation, Giacomo loves foreign languages, German being his favourite one, and travelling.


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