Change is afoot in the European regional airline sector, it would seem. Gone are the days of the “us and them,” with the regionals on one side, the major airlines on another and the low-cost carriers playing the role of bad-boy upstarts. The airline industry has been through the days of hybrid confusion and emerged into a world of working together and helping each other, according to Simon McNamara, director general of the European Regions Airline Association (ERA). “It’s a huge change…we want to break the perception that regional carriers are just own-brand point-to-point,” he admitted.
Never has the association’s name change from the European Regional Airline Association, some 15 years ago, seemed so apt. For a few years now the question has been “what actually is a regional airline.” The focus is really the regions, and how airlines can best serve the regions of Europe so it really does operate as a community.
As the association prepares for its annual general assembly, scheduled to take place in Barcelona from September 30 to October 2, the group looks forward to a “turning point” in Europe.
“It’s a blank sheet of paper, a good opportunity for us,” said McNamara in reference to the new European Parliament now in place and a new European Commission starting later this year following this summer’s elections. “We need to find out who the new personalities are…We are working on a simple vision for where we want Europe to go with air transport and connections to the regions, [and] we will have completed this by the end of this year.”
The ERA counts three main issues it expects to address entering into 2015. They involve passenger rights, Sesar (Single European Sky ATM Research) and the revision of EASA’s Basic Regulation, said McNamara.
Movement on passenger rights, including the replacement of the infamous EU Reg. 261/2004 (governing passenger compensation in the event of canceled or delayed flights), remains slow. “There is no agreement yet between Council and Parliament…it’s very much stationary right now and we’ll see where it gets picked up,” said McNamara. “We’re very unlikely to see anything final before the end of the year, and probably it will be mid-to-late 2015.”
Sesar is likely to prove controversial again, European legislators having finally acted this year to force the hands of states to accelerate change. The issue now for airlines, said McNamara, centers on the cost of equipping aircraft when the ground capability remains underdeveloped. McNamara described the situation as “a serious challenge to demonstrate the cost benefit of equipage” but also “a perfect test case for Sesar as a whole.”
Other issues on the agenda will include security, airport hub capacity and access, a possible European campaign to build new airport infrastructure as the industry grows, and Europe’s next steps on ETS (the EU Emissions Trading System, currently limited to intra-EU flights while ICAO works on a “global” emissions-control proposal). “And with a new parliament and commission, there will be new people and new ideas,” concluded McNamara.