Europe’s Regions Threatened by Loss of Hub Connections

 - April 23, 2012, 10:00 AM
During last week’s ERA spring conference Henrik Hololei, cabinet chief for the European Commissioner for Transport, admitted to a level of "overregulation" by the EC. (Photo: Mark Wright)

Delegates attending the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) spring conference in Porto, Portugal, last week heard about the risks associated with policies that focus on core areas with little or no regard to protecting the provision of air services to the regions where 85 percent of Europe’s population resides. ERA officials worry that slots will go to the “highest bidder,” which will mean airlines outside Europe, and in particular those from the Middle East, will squeeze out regional aircraft.

Henrik Hololei, cabinet chief for European Commissioner for Transport (and EC Vice President) Siim Kallas, told the conference delegates that the EC recognizes the importance of the regions. However, he admitted that the EC sometimes is “definitely guilty” of overregulation. He also lamented that regional airlines have been left to focus on feeding the hubs for larger carriers, rather than developing valuable point-to-point services. He defended the Commission’s proposed new slot regulation, which would address an “inefficient and inflexible” system, allowing far more airports to operate at full capacity and leading to “24 million passengers a year by 2025.”

He stressed the importance of sustainable development, but described ETS as a “complication,” especially when dealing with “third countries”, such as the U.S. “This must be tackled in the context of ICAO,” he said.

The conference concluded with calls for the industry to find more effective ways to educate lawmakers, who, in turn, should ensure that they include industry representatives at an early, consultative stage of any new legislation. That includes the Airports Package and the review of passenger rights legislation, and, in particular, the infamous Regulation 261/2004, which compels airlines to compensate passengers for cancellations or delays—regardless of whether or not they result through no fault of the carrier—at levels often well above the price of the ticket.