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Direct socio-economic impact of Malpensa airport

Malpensa airport in 2018 recorded the presence of 548 production activities, delivering over 20,500 work units.

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
2018 548 20,540 5,022 24,561,735 558,218 30,143,915 681

Source: elaborated from SEA and ISTAT data by LIUC Business School’s Centre for Local Area and Sector Development.

In the last five years, the presence of companies inside the airport structures grew by 13.7% (1.7% in the last year), with the corresponding job creation increasing by 23.1% (7.6% in 2018), due to a 29.6% increase in transport units (8.4% in 2018).

These performances indicate the current capacity of the airport to create work units against the growth in traffic, which can be quantified as 681 work units per million transported units, reducing slightly on previous years. According to a study commissioned by ACI Europe12, 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. Nonetheless, Malpensa’s ability to generate employment continues to show constant growth. In the five-year period, the value of production realized within Malpensa airport, totalling almost Euro 5 billion in 2018 (an increase of +58.3% on 2014; +0.9% on 2017), 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 four 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 79.3% of employees live in Lombardy, with over 6% residing in the neighbouring 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
2018 20,540 4,082 19.9

Source: elaborated from SEA data by LIUC Business School’s Centre for Local Area and Sector Development.

In the Province of Varese, in which Malpensa airport is located, approximately 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 2018 are the over 12,600 job openings, related to Euro 1.8 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, approximately 9,600 job openings with a value of production worth Euro 2.4 billion.

After 2017’s significant increases in indirect and ancillary impacts over previous years13, the trend continued in 2018, albeit at a slower rate both in terms of production and employment. The continuing general positive economic climate and the sustained growth in passengers gravitating to the airport confirmed their role in facilitating production and employment.

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).

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
2018 12,639 1,786 9,566 2,356

Source: elaborated from ISTAT data by LIUC Business School’s Centre for Local Area and Sector Development.

The scale of the spin-off effects is, on the other hand, correlated to the salary scales of the work units 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 (about 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 8.5% of Italian foreign trade and of this, over 65% originates in the north of Italy, with increasing values over time. These amounts are even more significant if we focus on exports: 10.5% of Italian exports in value are shipped by air (8.7% in 2010), with 67.6% 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 (which in 2018 increased by 1%), 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 2018 increased from 13.4% to 15.1%.

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
2018 875,717 74,669 48,574 459,430 48,288 32,640
CAGR 3.7% 7.1% 6.2% 5.3% 8.6% 8.2%
Crescita 18/17 -10.2% 11.3% 9.3% -10.6% 13.1% -2.7%
Share 2010   7.0%* 68.3%**   8.7%* 69.1%**
Share 2017   6.9%* 66.2%**   8.3%* 78.6%**
Share 2018 8.5%* 65.1%** 10.5%* 67.6%**

* Italy via air/Italy tot.
** North via air/Italy via air
Source: elaborated from ISTAT data by LIUC Business School’s Centre for Local Area and Sector Development. 
Last quarter 2017 and 2018 estimated

Import-export flows (Euro 48.5 billion) through Malpensa correspond to approximately 2.8% of Italian GDP.

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%
2018 459,430 32,640 7.1% 201,123 30,355 15.1%

Source: elaboration by SEA and LIUC Business School’s Centre for Local Area and Sector Development from ISTAT-Coeweb data (last quarter 2017 and 2018 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 movements in value terms via Malpensa by region (Euro thousands)

 IMPORT 2010IMPORT 2017IMPORT 2018∆ 2010-2018 (%)EXPORT 2010EXPORT 2017EXPORT 2018∆ 2010-2018 (%)
EU 27 1,627,296 2,535,058 2,106,835 29.5% 1,075,163 1,818,354 2,285,952 112.6%
EUROPE NON-EU COUNTRIES 301,352 827,891 349,024 15.8% 1,005,400 1,492,328 1,383,354 38.6%
NORTH AFRICA 43,273 45,294 46,747 8.0% 463,493 306,168 286,190 -38.3%
SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA 327,057 338,668 98,199 -70.0% 492,649 462,209 538,588 9.3%
NORTH AMERICA 3,580,207 5,748,845 3,209,441 -10.4% 5,179,007 8,413,028 8,542,860 65.0%
CENTRAL/SOUTH AMERICA 257,852 377,840 310,883 20.6% 1,376,060 1,691,007 1,807,361 31.3%
MIDDLE EAST 207,069 211,363 182,028 -12.1% 2,176,413 2,877,959 2,605,981 19.7%
CENTRAL ASIA 652,819 721,754 851,190 34.4% 906,166 1,010,496 1,279,360 41.2%
EAST ASIA 6,399,371 6,800,289 8,721,226 36.3% 6,996,730 11,914,056 12,992,426 85.7%
OCEANIA 71,242 106,848 56,085 -21.3% 676,293 897,073 894,081 32.2%
WORLD 13,468,749 17,640,921 15,934,575 18.3% 20,359,115 30,906,295 32,640,256 60.3%

Source: elaborated from ISTAT-Coeweb data by LIUC Business School’s Centre for Local Area and Sector Development.
Last quarter 2017 and 2018 estimated

During the acute phase of the recession (2010) to today (2018), the total value of exports transiting through Malpensa has increased much more quickly (60.3%) than imports (+18.3%), an increase of approximately Euro 12.3 billion in absolute value.

The main markets in terms of cargo managed by Malpensa are the European Union (imports +29.5%, exports +112.6%), North America (imports -10.4%, exports +65.0%), the Middle East (exports +19.7%) and East Asia (exports +85.7%). An analysis of main industry sector goods flows (altogether totalling 93.7% of the imports and 91.1% 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 THOUSANDS)

 IMPORT 2010IMPORT 2017IMPORT 2018∆ 2010-2018 (%)EXPORT 2010EXPORT 2017EXPORT 2018∆ 2010-2018 (%)
MECHANICS 6,937,603 7,448,197 8,999,612 29.7% 7,808,372 9,776,066 11,323,110 45.0%
FASHION/CLOTHES 1,965,067 1,630,326 1,918,557 -2.4% 4,473,242 8,562,996 9,072,515 102.8%
CHEMICALS/PLASTIC 2,397,392 4,619,155 2,123,209 -11.4% 2,592,617 4,813,927 4,241,406 63.6%
FURNITURE/FURNISHINGS 524,325 767,826 906,590 72.9% 1,770,144 3,305,605 2,881,109 62.8%
TRANSPORT VEHICLES 643,419 1,153,427 919,494 42.9% 2,256,094 2,813,255 2,205,828 -2.2%
TOTAL 12,467,806 15,618,931 14,867,462 19.2% 18,900,469 29,271,849 29,723,968 57.3%

Source: elaborated from ISTAT-Coeweb data by LIUC Business School’s Centre for Local Area and Sector Development.
Last quarter 2017 and 2018 estimated

Compared to 2010, industrial sector export values transiting through Malpensa have almost tripled (+57.3%) compared to imports (+19.2%), resulting in a net improvement of the trade balance. 

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

Total exports Italy 27,018 38,183 39,244
Total exports via Malpensa 3,237 8,563 9,073
Total exports via Malpensa/Total exports Italy 12.0% 22.5% 23.1%
Total exports Italy 10,684 14,305 14,349
Total exports via Malpensa 1,281 3,306 2,881
Total exports via Malpensa/Total exports Italy 12.0% 23.1% 20.1%
Total exports Italy 68,885 90,942 93,349
Total exports via Malpensa 5,651 9,776 11,323
Total exports via Malpensa/Total exports Italy 8.2% 10.7% 12.1%
Total exports Italy 35,387 45,249 53,935
Total exports via Malpensa 1,876 4,814 4,241
Total exports via Malpensa/Total exports Italy 5.3% 10.6% 7.9%

Source: elaborated from ISTAT-Coeweb data by LIUC Business School’s Centre for Local Area and Sector Development.
Last quarter 2017 and 2018 estimated

Strong increases are reported in imports in the furniture/furnishings (+72.9%) and transport vehicles (+42.9%, down compared to 2017) sectors, the doubling of exports in the fashion/clothes sector (+102.8%) and the decisive increase, also in terms of annual growth, in the machinery sector (+45%).

Malpensa's role in terms of cargo becomes even more important if we focus on the growth of export value quotas over the period 2010-2018 for some industry sectors.

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 23.1% and 20.1% respectively in 2018. A high growth rate was also registered for the machinery and the chemical/plastics sector, with Italian exports using Cargo City in Malpensa for 12.1% and 7.9% respectively of its export value, compared to 8.2% and 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).

Socio-economic impact generated by tourist flows through Malpensa

Individual expense totalsTransportAccommodationCateringShoppingFree timeTotal
Milan T1 total passenger spend (€) 90.4 323.7 202.3 383.2 90.4 1,090.0
Milan T2 total passenger spend (€) 83.7 288.9 194.4 324.0 86.4 977.4
Spend per night T1 (€) 38.0 136.0 85.0 161.0 38.0 458.0
Spend per night T2 (€) 31.0 107.0 72.0 120.0 32.0 362.0

 Nights/regionNo. interviewsAverage stay
Malpensa T1 11,318,443 3,311 2.38
Malpensa T2 5,994,384 601 2.70

 Pax totalsIncomers
Malpensa T1 16,984,458 4,755,648
Malpensa T2 7,577,277 2,220,142

OFF SITE spend totalTransportAccommodationCateringShopping spendFree timeTOTAL
Malpensa T1 (€ thousand) 430 1,539,308 962 1,822,269 430 5,183,847
Malpensa T2 (€ thousand) 186 641 432 719 199 2,169,967

 TransportAccommodationCateringShoppingFree timeTOTAL
Produced per employee 139 89 50 53 150  
Jobs generated  4,442 24,393 28,098 48,319 4,138 109,390

Source: CeRST-LIUC

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

  • In 2018 Malpensa airport delivered almost 7 million tourists to the Lombardy region, of which 1.4 million from outside the European Union.
  • Data on inbound tourism shows a 57% impact on total inbound passenger flows, with a 43% impact on intercontinental flows, in constant growth since 2010.
  • After Europe, the areas contributing most passengers are the Middle East (approximately 7.3% of total inbound), Asia (4.2%) and North America (approximately 4%).
  • Malpensa, in 2017, delivered over 59% 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: almost 4,000 outbound international tourists from Malpensa Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 with at least one overnight stay in Lombardy were interviewed between 2017 and 2018.

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 2018. 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 7.3 billion. Work units created from inbound tourism linked to Malpensa exceed 109,000 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 123 (+16% on 2017) 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 over Euro 9.8 billion (2016 data), representing approximately 30,000 work units.

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 3 29 43 48
% 2.4% 23.6% 35.0% 39.0%
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 32 59 22 7 3
% 26.0% 48.0% 17.9% 5.7% 2.4%

Source: Centre for Local Area and Sector Development - LIUC BS

As shown from the results of the survey, approximately 39% 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, 74.0% 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 7.8 billion (79.6% of the sample), providing 22,347 work units (slightly less than 75.0% of the work units 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 2018 - 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 Euro 41.5 billion of production value generated, and the creation of over 350,000 work units.

Cumulative socio-economic impact of Malpensa airport

Type of impact Jobs effect Value of production (Euro mil.)
Direct 20,540 5,022
Indirect 12,639 1,786
Spin-off 9,566 2,356
Catalytic 307,364 32,357
of which International trade142,870 22,597
of which Tourism109,390 7,367
of which Locating businesses55,104 2,393
Total 350,109 41,521

Source: Centre for Local Area and Sector Development - LIUC BS


12 Intervistas, Economic Impact of European Airports, 2015
13 For an explanation of the phenomenon, see 2017’s NFD