Few punches were pulled as speakers took on the challenges facing business aviation in Europe at the opening session of EBACE 2013 yesterday morning, with government policies, outdated infrastructure and the slack economy the primary targets. Hosted by Fabio Gamba, CEO of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), speakers included NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen; Patrick Ky, managing director, SESAR JU (Single European Sky ATM Research program Joint Undertaking); Daniel Weder, CEO of air navigation service provider Skyguide; and–via recorded video message–Siim Kallas, vice president of the European Commission and its Commissioner for Mobility and Transport.
On the upside, Gamba noted that this year’s EBACE is on pace to match last year’s record-setting numbers, with static display space sold out and exhibitors and attendee counts expected to equal last year’s, which is “excellent news given the challenging economy in the region,” he said. He then added, “We have reached the limits of the air transport system, conceived 70 years ago, when they couldn’t see the diversity and volume of traffic. We’re seeing cracks in the system.
Bolen said that from U.S. business aviation users, the biggest concern about Europe is, “How are we going to comply with ETS [the EU’s emissions trading scheme]? It doesn’t make any sense as we see it.”
Kallas addressed the Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) that are supposed to streamline the EU’s 27-member nations’ air traffic management responsibilities, but that has only added to the confusion. “The situation is far behind expectations, as I see it,” he told attendees from the large video screen.
Ky, who is about to move from managing Sesar to leading EASA, hit on an underlying problem with one of his opening comments, “People ask, ‘Do we really need to invest and modernize [Europe’s Air Traffic Control system]?’” This was a question that his presentation effectively answered by showcasing many shortcomings of current operations. Weder pointed to a lack of understanding of business aviation among many air navigation service providers as another challenge confronting the sector.
But people who use business aviation are generally high achievers and optimists who show a willingness to roll up their sleeves and solve problems, as Gamba demonstrated in his closing remarks: “As frustrated as we may be with current conditions, I’m convinced of an exciting future ahead,” he said. “But for it to materialize, we must lay out the essential conditions for that to occur.”