Europe’s Regional Airlines Soldier Through Political Quagmire

 - October 7, 2013, 3:10 PM
ERA director general Simon McNamara cited five key areas of lobbying activity for the association in the next year.

The General Assembly of the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) took place in Salzburg last week with a mixed picture of how airlines are managing, particularly with continued pressure from low-cost-carrier growth and regulatory burdens. In the ERA’s view, Europe has a major problem with central politicians who seem unable to understand the value of regional aviation that local politicians in its many outer regions have little problem appreciating.

This formed the theme for the main discussion session on the afternoon of Thursday, October 3. Executives from 50 of Europe’s smaller airlines, along with 10 aircraft manufacturers and various suppliers to the industry, who are all represented by ERA, heard of the ongoing frustrations of dealing with Brussels–underscored by the decision on Monday by the European Parliament’s Transport Committee to reject EASA’s proposed flight time limitation (FTL) rules for pilots. ERA director general Simon McNamara was clearly exasperated by the EP’s action, while admitting the battle over passenger rights is likely to prove difficult, with European elections next year meaning customers will be favored even more than usual.

McNamara listed five main areas that are key for ERA over the next year, corresponding with the association’s new strategic plan: passenger rights; FTL; ATC modernization; EU-ETS (under which ERA carriers are included but non-EU carriers are exempt for now); and safety. McNamara said that he had made a point of visiting various ERA member airlines. Some such as Carpatair and Skywork have been struggling recently (the latter through the withdrawal of its main shareholder), while others are making the most of having niches and captive audiences to grow–bmi regional being a prime example, operating from UK non-London airports and expanding to Norway and elsewhere with 50-seat Embraer ERJ 135s/145s.

“It has been a rocky road but our sector has adapted well…we have seen a slowing of the downturn, which gives us some cause for optimism,” said outgoing ERA president Marc Lamidey during a “State of the Industry” overview. He added that Eurocontrol is predicting a return to universal growth in all areas of Europe next year.

Meanwhile, regional aircraft manufacturers used the opportunity of the ERA main event to release their latest news. Embraer reported the sale of two E195s, one to Aurigny of the Channel Islands and one to Belavia of Belarus; ATR signed a follow-on order for 15 ATR 72-600s with Nordic Aviation Capital (NAC), adding to the order for 35 placed at the Paris Air Show in June; and Bombardier announced that Luxair had placed an order for another Q400 NextGen turboprop, delivery of which will boost its fleet to seven in April.

Bombardier reported that the CSeries made its second flight last Tuesday, with another planned late last week; and Superjet International CEO Nazario Cauceglia reported that Russia acted to guarantee the program’s funding as improvements continued to be made to the aircraft, which he believes will become “a key player in the regional market.”