Europe’s regional airlines set out a strategy to strengthen air transport’s ties with European institutions
(photo: KLM Cityhopper)
Fri 13 Feb 2015 – As a new leadership takes the helm at the European Commission for the next five years and sets out its work programme, Europe’s regional airlines are looking for a fresh impetus from policymakers, politicians and regulatory institutions on aviation issues. However, the sector’s trade association, the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), is concerned that aviation may not be seen as a high enough priority. In a briefing to journalists last week, the ERA management set out its vision for the development of regional aviation in Europe in which it is seeking progress in key policy areas, including environment. ERA Director General Simon McNamara said the inclusion of aviation into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) had been a disaster and had led to a regrettable confrontation between industry and EU institutions.
With a new Commission and Parliament in place, together with new leadership at aviation bodies such as Eurocontrol and EASA, there was a unique opportunity at a pivotal time of change to drive a new vision for aviation in Europe, said McNamara.
“We want that vision, along with a strategy to achieve to it, to go down a path that will promote our business,” he said. “In a way, the fact there is no clear vision from the Commission as yet on aviation means there is blank sheet of paper to work with and we are hoping to find open minds.”
McNamara said the industry had a negative image on the environment despite its good record on improving performance related to noise and emissions.
In its ‘Future of Regional Aviation’ strategy report, the ERA says that by its inclusion in the EU ETS, European aviation’s commitment to environmental protection should be recognised and an indication that it was fulfilling its role.
Boet Kreiken, President of the ERA, said EU plans to kick-start the economy was good news for Europe’s regional airlines, which for too long had been in the doldrums. He noted that three out of a hundred EU citizens now worked in another EU state, which was expected to double over the next 12 years or so, and cross-border connectivity would be essential.
It was important to be ‘green’ but equally important to provide employment opportunities across the regions, he stated, and believed many of the environmental issues around noise and emissions would be solved by technology. Rather than imposing taxes, more should be done to help airlines access easier finance to acquire cleaner and quieter aircraft, he suggested.
Regional air transport was a lifeline for outlying communities in Europe but many ERA members were finding it a very tough market to operate in and there would likely be further consolidation and restructuring amongst regional carriers, reported Kreiken, who is also Managing Director of KLM Cityhopper.
Load factors were too low in Europe – around 75%, compared to 85% in the United States – he reported, adding: “This must be solved fast, it is a big issue for the future.”
He criticised the lack of progress on the Single European Sky, noting that there was no political ownership of the issue, and was also scathing of the monopolistic behaviour of service suppliers such as airports and air traffic providers.
James Sibley, EU Policy Analyst with political intelligence specialists DeHavilland EU, told the briefing that the revised structure introduced by the incoming European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, could be a positive for EU policymaking. Key project teams will now be responsible for cross-cutting major policy fields, with Energy Union and Climate Change being amongst those of special interest to aviation, he said.
“While the proof of the effectiveness of the new project teams will only come with time, the change represents a positive step, introducing new horizontal layers into what was previously a very vertical institution,” said Sibley. “Whereas Commissioners would previously often compete over policies and legacies, the new structure should hopefully result in a more focused and collective effort.”
Although the Commission had yet to articulate its approach to aviation, a proposal for a new Aviation Package was significant, he believed.
The new Commissioner responsible for transport, and therefore aviation, is Violeta Bulc, a Slovenian entrepreneur and politician without previous experience of her portfolio. However, notes Sibley, she particularly referenced the Single European Sky during her confirmation hearing.
Replacing Connie Hedegaard as Climate Commissioner is Spain’s Miguel Arias Cañete, who also takes on the Energy portfolio. Given his oil industry background, Cañete was a controversial appointment but, suggested Sibley, is likely to be a less confrontational personality than his predecessor.