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Direct socio-economic impact of Malpensa airport

Malpensa airport in 2017 recorded the presence of 539 production activities, delivering slightly over 19,000 jobs.

Direct socio-economic impact generated by Malpensa airport

(€ MIL.)
2014 482 16,682 3,173 18,669,740 459,696 23,266,700 717
2016 546 18,305 3,660 19,311,565 536,862 24,680,185 741
2017 539 19,093 4,977 22,037,241 576,539 27,802,631 687

Source: data by the CeRST-LIUC from SEA and ISTAT figures

In the last four years, the presence of companies inside the airport structures grew by 11.8%, with the corresponding job creation increasing by 14.4%, due to an overall 19.5% increase in airport traffic (passengers + cargo).

These performances indicate the current capacity of the airport to create jobs against the growth in traffic, which can be quantified as 687 jobs per million of transported units, reducing on previous years. According to a recent study commissioned by ACI Europe17 (Airports Council International), direct employment generated by airports is influenced by the size of the airport, the type of traffic, as well as the mix of the traffic handled. The growth in airport size has an inversely proportional impact on its job creation capacity, just like the significant presence of low-cost airlines in the airport generates a lower impact on direct employment compared to the traffic produced by traditional carriers.  In the four-year period, the value of production realized within Malpensa airport, totaling almost Euro 5 billion in 2017 (an increase of 56.8% on 2014), grew significantly. This growth includes the increase in direct employment, the inflation-linked contribution, and the increase of overall productivity which characterized the whole Lombardy production system in the period covered by the three studies.

Direct employment impact of Malpensa on CUV municipalities (Voluntary Urban Committees)

The analysis of the regional employment distribution, directly due to Malpensa airport, shows that 79% of employees live in Lombardy, with over 6% residing in the neighboring province of Novara and almost 12% residing outside the region.

Employment impact of Malpensa on the CUV municipalities

2014 16,682 3,639 21.8
2016 18,305 3,722 20.3
2017 19,093 3,870 20.3

Source: SEA on CeRST-LIUC figures

In the Province of Varese, in which Malpensa airport is located, approx. half of employees were based (50.6%), while in the CUV municipalities slightly more than 20% of employment generated by the airport was located (38% of the employment directly generated by Malpensa in the Province of Varese).

Indirect and spin-off socio-economic impacts of Malpensa

Testament to the indirect impact of Malpensa airport (related to the supply chain external to the production units operating within the airport) in 2017 are the almost 12,000 job openings, related to Euro 1.7 billion of value of production generated.

The spin-off effect (resulting from the increase of aggregate demand generated by salary and payments to employees operating inside the airport structures) represents, on the other hand, over 9,000 job openings with a value of production worth Euro 2.3 billion.

Development of Malpensa’s indirect and spin-off effect

2014 4,917 1,049 2,333 1,250
2016 5,497 830 2,686 1,095
2017 11,748 1,770 8,892 2,335

Source: data by the CeRST-LIUC from ISTAT figures

The significant increase of production value and employment value recorded in 2017 from indirect and spin-off effects compared to previous years, is due to the updated productivity indicators for the Lombardy region rather than the input-output multipliers from the regionalization of the data used by Istat and is also due to the improvement of the overall economic climate (indirectly) and the dynamics of a significant increase in passenger numbers transiting the airport.

In general terms, the indirect effects are positively connected to the overall size of the economic activities operating inside the airport, the expansion and development of the aviation sector in the country (airports which acquire significant part of their supplies from domestic sectors have a higher instance of job creation and indirect production value) and from the levels of productivity/efficiencies of the industries supplying the air transport sector (sectors with high levels of industrial automation and technologies have a lower level of indirect employment impacts).

The scale of the spin-off effects is, on the other hand, correlated to the salary scales of the jobs directly and indirectly generated. It is also correlated to the preference for consuming domestic products, a tendency for families to save rather than spend, (higher levels of spending on imported goods and services, or high-levels of savings, reduce the impact) and the levels of tax contributions (higher tax contributions reduce the multiplier).

The catalytic socio-economic impact of Malpensa airport

The concept of the catalytic impact is in line with the idea that the airport contributes to generating (and is a part of) a sort of eco-system of which the airport is initially the driving force and then the co-pivot. Catalytic dynamics may therefore be the forces, which, in the long term, bring together in the airport’s territory, people, production activities, competencies and technologies. By placing catalytic-type impacts in the broader context of territorial attractiveness it is clear that:

  • the catalytic activation tends to become significant and transversal only beyond a certain airport size threshold and, correlates in a non-linear manner, to traffic flows;
  • it is not easy to identify and separate the various breakdowns of the catalytic impact;
  • there are feedback mechanisms, even if relatively weaker, by which the economic context, in its turn, triggers airport development.

Analysis of the components of Malpensa’s catalytic impact

International trade

Manufacturing companies present in the territory benefit from the airport connections to export markets.


Air access increases the number of inbound tourists to a country. This tourist spend supports a wide range of businesses: hotels, restaurants, shops, entertainment and leisure services, car hire, etc.

The attraction and the retention of production investments in the territory

The presence of an international airport is a key factor for companies deciding to relocate their offices, production plants or warehouses.

The role of Malpensa in international trade

The volume of air cargo volume to and from Italy is negligible (circa 2%) of the external national trade flows and is trumped by maritime transport as the key mode. This might imply that the catalytic effect on trade is insignificant.

The framework changes if you take into account the value of the shipped goods.

The total value of air cargo transported represents 7% of Italian foreign trade and of this over 65% originates in the north of Italy, with increasing values over time.

These values are even greater if only exports are taken into account: 8.3% of Italian exports in value are shipped by air (8.7% in 2010), with 78.6% of this transiting through northern Italian airports (against 69.1% in 2010).

The role of Malpensa from this point of view is primordial, not only in terms of its impact on the overall value of Italian exports, (stabilizing around 6% over the last few years), but in terms of its impact on national direct exports outside the EU (where air cargo suffers less from competition with maritime transport and notably road haulage), which between 2010 and 2017 increased from 13.4% to 14.6%.

Development of the import-export flows of air cargo in Italy (in millions of Euro)

 Imports + ExportsExports
2010 704,735 49,542 33,828 337,346 29,448 20,359
2017 975,495 67,081 44,433 514,121 42,705 33,553
CAGR 5.6% 5.2% 4.6% 7.3% 6.4% 8.7%
Portion 2010   7.0%* 68.3%**   8.7%* 69.1%**
Portion 2017   6.9%* 66.2%**   8.3%* 78.6%**

* Italy via air/Italy tot
** North via air/Italy via air

Source: data elaborated by the SEA-CeRST-LIUC from ISTAT figures- (last quarter 2017 estimated)

Impact of Malpensa cargo traffic on Italian export values (millions of Euro)

2010 337,346 20,359 6.0% 143,958 19,283 13.4%
2017 514,121 30,906 6.0% 198,977 29,087 14.6%

Source: data elaborated by the SEA-CeRST-LIUC from ISTAT-Coeweb figures (last quarter 2017 estimated)

With regard to goods transiting through Malpensa's Cargo City, the main reference markets in terms of import values are East Asia, North America and the European Union. The Middle East is included when we consider export values.

Import-export moves. in value terms via Malpensa by region (Euro thousands)

 IMPORTS 2010IMPORTS 2017Cge. %EXPORTS 2010EXPORTS 2017Cge. %
EU 27 1,627,296 2,535,058 55.8 1,075,163 1,818,354 69.1
EUROPE NON-EU  301,352 827,891 174.7 1,005,400 1,492,328 42.1
NORTH AFRICA 43,273 45,294 4.7 463,493 306,168 -33.9
SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA 327,057 338,668 3.5 492,649 462,209 -6.2
NORTH AMERICA 3,580,207 5,748,845 60.6 5,179,007 8,413,028 62.4
CENTRAL/SOUTH AMERICA 257,852 377,840 46.5 1,376,060 1,691,007 22.9
MIDDLE EAST 207,069 211,363 2.1 2,176,413 2,877,959 32.2
CENTRAL ASIA 652,819 721,754 10.6 906,166 1,010,496 11.5
EAST ASIA 6,399,371 6,800,289 6.3 6,996,730 11,914,056 70.3
OCEANIA 71,242 106,848 50.0 676,293 897,073 32.6
WORLD 13,468,749 17,640,921 31.0 20,359,115 30,906,295 51.8

Source: data elaborated by the CeRST-LIUC from ISTAT-Coeweb figures (last quarter 2017 estimated)

During the acute phase of the recession (2010) to today (2017), the total value of exports transiting through Malpensa has increased much more quickly (51.8%) than imports (+31.0%), an increase of over Euro 10 billion in absolute value.

The main markets in terms of cargo managed by Malpensa are the European Union (imports +55.8%, exports +69.1%), North America (imports +60.6%, exports +62.4%), the Middle East (exports +32.2%) and East Asia (exports +70.3%).

An analysis of main industry sector goods flows (altogether totaling 88.5% of the imports and 94.7% of the imports in terms of value handled by Malpensa) shows a peak in exports for machinery, fashion/clothes, chemical/plastics and furniture/furnishings. Imports are strong in the machinery, chemical/plastic and fashion/clothes sectors.

Change in import-export flows through Malpensa per industry sector (Euro ‘000)

 IMPORTS 2010IMPORTS 2017Cge. %EXPORTS 2010EXPORTS 2017Cge. %
MACHINERY 6,937,603 7,448,197 7.3 7,808,372 9,776,066 25.2
FASHION/CLOTHES 1,965,067 1,630,326 -17.0 4,473,242 8,562,996 91.4
CHEMICALS/PLASTIC 2,397,392 4,619,155 92.7 2,592,617 4,813,927 85.7
FURNITURE/FURNISHINGS 524,325 767,826 46.4 1,770,144 3,305,605 86.7
TRANSPORT VEHICLES 643,419 1,153,427 79.2 2,256,094 2,813,255 24.7
TOTAL 12,467,806 15,618,931 25.3 18,900,469 29,271,849 54.9

Source: data elaborated by the CeRST-LIUC from ISTAT-Coeweb figures (last quarter 2017 estimated)

Compared to 2010, industrial sector export values transiting through Malpensa have doubled (+54.9%) compared to imports (+25.3%), resulting in a net improvement of the trade balance. Strong increases in imports in the chemical (+92.7%) and logistics (+79.2%) sectors and the near doubling of exports in the fashion/clothes (+91.4%), furniture/furnishings (+86.7%) and chemicals/plastic (+85.7%) sectors merit attention. Malpensa's role in terms of cargo becomes even more important if we focus on the growth of export value quotas over the period 2010-2017 for some industry sectors.

Export quotas of some industry sectors transiting through Malpensa to key global markets, (in millions of Euro)

Total exports Italy 27,018 38,183
Total exports via Malpensa 3,237 8,563
Total exports via Malpensa/Total exports Italy 12.0% 22.5%
Total exports Italy 10,684 14,305
Total exports via Malpensa 1,281 3,306
Total exports via Malpensa/Total exports Italy 12.0% 23.1%
Total exports Italy 68,885 90,942
Total exports via Malpensa 5,651 9,776
Total exports via Malpensa/Total exports Italy 8.2% 10.7%
Total exports Italy 35,387 45,249
Total exports via Malpensa 1,876 4,814
Total exports via Malpensa/Total exports Italy 5.3% 10.6%

Source: data elaborated by the CeRST-LIUC from ISTAT-Coeweb figures (last quarter 2017 estimated)

The value of Italian exports in the fashion/clothes and furniture/furnishing sectors transiting through Malpensa almost doubled in the period, growing from 12.0% for both sectors in 2010 to 22.5% and 23.1% respectively in 2017. The same rate of increase was registered for the chemical/plastics sector, with Italian exports using Cargo City in Malpensa for 10.6% of its export value, compared to 5.3% in 2010. 

The role of Malpensa in Lombardy’s tourism industry

The existence of a positive and significant correlation between airport connectivity and tourist attractiveness is well-established in research literature. Beyond the obvious fact that a greater number of airport connections generates more international mobility and therefore more tourism, it is worthwhile highlighting that:

  • The effect works both ways (inbound and outbound tourism) regardless of the type of airport (Oxford Economics 2013).
  • The presence of an airport significantly contributes to increasing the prestige and image of a tourist destination (Vujicic e Wickelgren, 2013).
  • The airport becomes a key asset in implementing public policies to support tourism (Jacobs Consultancy per NTTC, 2012).

On the basis of the data produced by the LIUC – SEA airport-tourism Observatory - it is estimated that:

  • In 2016 Malpensa airport delivered over 5 million tourists to the Lombardy region, of which 1.4 million from outside the European Union.
  • Data on inbound tourism shows a 52% impact on total inbound passenger flows, with a 44% impact on intercontinental flows, in constant growth since 2010.
  • After Europe, the areas contributing most passengers are Asia (10% of total inbound), the Middle East and North America (both circa 5%).
  • Malpensa, in 2016, delivered 57% of the total tourists visiting Lombardy from non-EU markets.

To establish how these dynamics translate into socio-economic impact variables that benefit the Lombardy region, a study was carried out on a panel of passengers disembarking in Malpensa, to establish their spending habits in the region, in terms of transport, hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, free time, entertainment and leisure: In 2017, 3,700 international passengers leaving Malpensa Terminal 1 or 2 and spending at least one night in Lombardy, were interviewed.

Socio-economic impact generated by tourist flows through Malpensa

Individual expense totalsTransportAccommodationCateringShoppingFree timeTotal
Milan T1 total passenger spend (€) 90.9 300.6 193.4 356.5 93.2 1,034.5
Milan T2 total passenger spend (€) 88.4 267.8 179.4 306.8 96.2 938.6
Spend per night T1 (€) 39.0 129.0 83.0 153.0 40.0 444.0
Spend per night T2 (€) 34.0 103.0 69.0 118.0 37.0 361.0

 Nights/regionNo. interview.Average stay
Malpensa T1 9,183,115 3,123 2.33
Malpensa T2 5,459,602 579 2.60

 Pax totalsIncomers
Malpensa T1 14,463,307 3,941,251
Malpensa T2 7,705,860 2,099,847

OFF SITE spend totalTransportAccommodationCateringShoppingFree timeTOTAL
Malpensa T1 (€ thousand) 358,141 1,184,622 762,199 1,405,017 367,325 4,077,303
Malpensa T2 (€ thousand) 185,626 562,339 376,713 644,233 202,005 1,970,916

 TransportAccommodationCateringShoppingFree timeTOTAL
Produced per employee 139 89 50 53 150  
Jobs generated  3,921 19,541 22,962 38,959 3,788 89,171

Source: CeRST-LIUC

For each cost item and each airport Terminal the average daily spend per capita declared was multiplied by the average stay and then by the number of international visitors transiting through Malpensa in 2017. Thus, the overall spend per Terminal was established. These values, compared to the average productivity per employee per relevant sector, generated data on the catalytic impact on employment. Economically, inbound tourism represents about Euro 6 billion. Jobs created from inbound tourism linked to Malpensa represent in excess of 89,000 units.

The role of Malpensa in the attractiveness of local businesses

To identify the role played by Malpensa airport in the decisions taken by the players in the industrial sector regarding their location (and/or continued presence), production investments (plants, offices, warehouses), a survey was carried out on 107 representatives of both Italian and overseas companies based in the airport’s immediate hinterland. The companies surveyed are mainly located in the area east of Malpensa (Asse del Sempione) and in the municipalities of Varese, Gallarate, Busto Arsizio, Legnano and Saronno, with an accumulative turnover of Euro 9 billion (2015 data), representing 28,000 jobs.

Role of Malpensa in the choice of location/continued presence of companies in the hinterland

How would you rank the importance of having an intercontinental airport in the vicinity for the development of your business?
No. responses 2 26 36 39
% 1.9 25.2 35 37.9
How would you rank the presence of Malpensa as a factor in your choice to locate or to continue your business in the region?
No. responses 27 52 20 6 2
% 25.2 48.6 18.7 5.6 1.9

Source: CeRST-LIUC

As shown from the results of the survey, 38% of the companies surveyed attributed a high degree of importance to the presence of an intercontinental airport in the vicinity for the development of their business.

Furthermore, 73.8% of the companies interviewed identified the presence of Malpensa as a primary or secondary factor conditioning their choice of location/continuation of their production units. These companies have an accumulative turnover of Euro 7.2 billion (79.2% of the sample), providing 20,651 jobs (73.3% of the jobs in the sampled companies).

Overall socio-economic impact of Malpensa

Putting together the results obtained from the estimates of the different types of impacts considered, it emerges that the overall socio-economic impact of Malpensa in 2017 - with variable degrees of intensity within a regional catchment area, which, based on the processes considered, stretches from the immediate hinterland, to Lombardy, to the entire north of Italy - corresponds to over Euro 35 billion of production value generated, and the creation of over 300,000 jobs.

Cumulative socio-economic impact of Malpensa airport

Type of impactJobs effectValue of production (Euro mil.)
Direct 19,093 4,977
Indirect 11,748 1,770
Spin-off 8,892 2,335
Catalytic 255,528 26,103
of which International trade 113,260 17,908
of which Tourism 89,171 6,048
of which Locating businesses 53,097 2,147
Total 295,261 35,185

Source: CeRST-LIUC


17  Intervistas, Economic Impact of European Airports, 2015