The paper adopts the economic-geographical ideas of strategic coupling, path-dependence and path-creation to analyse the role of local/regional institutions in shaping the impacts of airports on regional development. By means of focusing on the airport industry (i.e. an integral component of the wider air transport system), the paper aims to help bridge the gap between economic geography, where air transport has received little attention, and transport geography, which so far has made little use of the theoretical advancements made in economic geography. The paper discusses the example of Poland where, further to the fall of communism, regional development became a key ambition for local and regional governments and where the importance of passenger aviation is rapidly increasing. Drawing from 16 interviews with airlines, Polish airports and Polish local authorities, and from documentary analysis, the paper explores the ways in which local/regional governments charge their airports with the path-shaping tasks of fostering strategic couplings with airlines and catalysing new forms of growth. This includes financial and political support, joint marketing and imposing challenging targets. The paper also shows that the transformation of Polish airports from passive assets into active agents of regional development (a process that is referred to as the ‘agentisation of airports’) is inherently path-dependent. The peculiar structure of ownership in the Polish airport industry (a partial legacy of the previous system) and the tensions between various actors that it spawns entangle Polish airports in the multi-scalar patterns of politics, which determine the effectiveness of their path-shaping roles.
The author would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers who provided very useful suggestions on how to improve the paper and strengthen its contribution.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The paper has been written on the basis of a research project on air transport in CEE that was funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust (grant no. SG132857). A partial contribution under the same scheme was made by the Sir Ernest Cassel Educational Trust Fund.
- air transport
- regional development
- strategic coupling