Stating that he believes the worst years of the global economic downturn are behind us, EBAA CEO Fabio Gamba welcomed the audience to the opening session kicking off EBACE 2014 yesterday morning with “confidence that 2014 is going to be, if not a defining moment, certainly a positive and exciting one.” He cited this year’s total of 499 exhibitors, an amount which is up 8 percent over last year’s tally, along with a 4 percent rise in occupied exhibit space. While the static display has the same number of aircraft as in 2013, this year’s edition has attracted more of the larger aircraft, which challenged show organizers to fit them all. “If nothing else I think its fair to say these numbers are a testimony of the confidence that the sector has in the future,” Gamba said.
While the industry and the economy in general are noting positive signs of late, one of the major concerns that must be addressed according to EBAA is that of illegal flights. “Illegal flights are damaging the industry, that’s a fact,” Gamba told the audience. “We know that they represent 14 percent of the total number of business aviation movements here in Europe. These 14 percent cost our industry and the society 1.2 billion Euros per annum.” Some of those illegal flights can be attributed to the current legislative environment and the restrictions it places upon the industry, according to Gamba. “It does not facilitate business, it provides obstacles to business actually to such an extent that some see bending the rules as means for survival.”
EBAA is currently working on two major areas of regulatory concern to the organization and its members. In terms of flight and duty time regulations, the association has commissioned a study demonstrating the differences in types of fatigue between commercial and business aviation pilots, which it hopes will differentiate the industry from blanket regulations currently covering all pilots. Another key topic is in the differences in allowed runway usage. “In terms of runway performance, we’re still living in a world where we have antiquated ideas about aircraft safety,” noted Gamba. “Why is it that full use of a runway is granted to some yet restricted to only 60 percent to others?” EBAA is attempting to determine whether it can be safe for commercial aviation to extend the percentage use of runways and if so, up to what point. It will then attempt to convince the authorities to change the regulations. “If we can do this it will have a very strong and very positive impact on business aviation,” said Gamba, noting it will open up many new runways for the use of business aviation. “It would be welcome news in a world where we’re getting squeezed out from major hubs for slot reasons, where we’re getting squeezed out from secondary airports and potentially even from regional airports.”
Given the efforts currently being put forward by the organization, Gamba is encouraged that they will be fruitful. “We’re extremely hopeful that we can get some initial results on these two fronts and on others as well before the end of the year.”
Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, noted the product launches the day before from Gulfstream and Bombardier as a welcome sign in his opening remarks. “I think the fact that we are making news with new announcements is an enormously important sign about the underlying strength of the industry, he said. “That suggests that even in the darkest days our industry kept its eye on the horizon, and kept looking forward, kept investing in the future.” Bolen noted the recent firming of the economy and its historic correlation with the health of the industry. “When the economy has expanded, its been good for our industry, when it has contracted it has represented a significant challenge, he said, adding that government regulations will also play a role in the industry recovery, citing the EU emissions trading scheme and the recently enacted third country operations rules as potentially limiting legislation which the industry is currently engaged in.
Leading off the three guest speakers was Dr. Roland Werner, state secretary of transport, Saxony state ministry for economic affairs, labor and transport, who told the attendees that air transportation is the backbone of international and globalized society. “Therefore we know that your business aviation, what you represent is a really important part of this sector, and if you’d like to foster growth in Europe, we need you.” He explained that the industry needs to make sure its voice is not lost among the chorus of aviation interests when dealing with European regulatory bodies. “I’m a big fan of big airlines, but I have the impression that sometimes the solutions that big airlines or the producers of very big aircraft [have] may not really apply or be suitable for what your needs are, so the right regulation for an A380 might not be the right size for a business jet.” He noted European airports must preserve slots for business aviation in order to preserve their accessibility from all areas. “What does it help for us if you fly from a small town to another small town two hours outside London, Paris or Frankfurt,” he asked rhetorically. “Therefore we are completely on your side in this issue.” In closing, he added “It’s a very important sector that you represent and I really assure you, you have friends in politics.”
“Business aviation has a long standing very good relation with Eurocontrol, said Frank Brenner, the agency’s director general. “We always look your figures in order to have the pulse of what the economy is doing. It’s no secret whenever the business aviation traffic figures go up it’s a first very good indication our economy in Europe is getting some more speed.” Brenner said the growth while weak is overall a positive signal of recovery in the economy and a positive outlook that business is again of importance.
He outlined the 51-year-old, multi-national agency’s move towards centralized services under the Single European Sky initiative, with regards to air traffic control. The agency is taking a step-by-step approach in determining how new technology coming out of Sesar should be deployed on a local, regional or central level in an effort to improve the air traffic management performance in Europe. Brenner said the agency has calculated it can save between 1.5 billion and 2 billion euros over a 10-year period by switching from the current fragmented approach using the approximately 80 centers it currently operates in Europe to a more centralized one. Such a change will also simplify alignment with other parts of the world including the U.S. and Asia. “Our American colleagues often are surprised with our fragmented situation, that we still are able to provide air traffic control compared to the U.S.,” Brenner noted. “We are doing it, we are struggling, we are trying to improve but it’s a historical situation. We are not the United States of Europe, so we have to overcome those issues in a step-by-step approach.” Such a path has begun with the establishment of functional air space blocks.
Eurocontrol does not intend to provide services itself, but instead plans to tender them to current air navigation service providers hoping for consortiums to compete with bids to provide them. Brenner said the agency is look to move away from a fixed route system to a more point-to-point system, and is working to improve communication between the aircraft and the ground controllers to establish this hopefully, before the end of 2016.
The final speaker, André Kudelski, vice chairman of Geneva International Airport and Chairman and CEO of Kudelski Group, spoke to the need of interconnectivity provided by aviation to the success not only of companies of countries. He explained how Europe has decreased in world prominence over the past 50 years, supplanted by regions like Asia, and said it will have to be smarter if it wants to have a place in the new world. Since 2000, the growth in emerging economies has outpaced those in advanced economies, making connectivity between places like Europe and emerging markets such as Africa even more important, in order to take advantage of opportunities. Looking at the local region, Kudelski observed that multinational companies based in and around Geneva contributed to two-thirds of the GDP growth of the area over the past decade. He noted that commercial aviation and business aviation are complementary to each other. While scheduled passenger flights offer lower pricing, commercial aviation does not go everywhere, so for those seeking to blaze new business trails, it can be a valuable tool.