ERA 2008: ‘Front line’ issues turn more intense

 - October 8, 2008, 6:36 AM

European Regions Airline Association members face three “front-line” issues as they prepare for their annual general assembly in Manchester, England, this month: the environment, the so-called Single European Sky (SES) and safety regulation. Director-general Mike Ambrose concedes that the industry’s concerns haven’t changed much over the past year, but the scrutiny on these topics has become “more intense” since the last general assembly.

The inclusion of aviation in the “Mother Directive” legislation covering the emissions trading scheme (ETS) for other industries is “all but agreed” and awaits only the European Commission’s rubber stamp, Ambrose told AIN last month. “I think it is inescapable that Europeans have to abide by the ETS, even though Brazil, China, the U.S. and even Russia do not expect to accept emissions-trading applied to their operations,” he said.

Ambrose shows characteristic concern about what might happen to surplus revenues arising from the auctioning of carbon permits. “Governments are unaccountable for the money, and if the proposal is adopted there are going to be casualties,” said Ambrose. “The [airline] associations must see to it that European aviation is not shot in the foot.”

He said that long-haul flights such as Chicago-Delhi or New York-Bangkok likely would not fly “over” Frankfurt, London or Paris because ETS charges apply to flights to, from and within Europe. Rather, operators will opt to use airports in the Middle East, with Europe “handing traffic to [Gulf states] on a plate. We’ll lose the connecting traffic and the money that is always spent at transit stops.”

Ambrose has told ERA members and industry partners that “the European Parliament and Council are compelling Europe’s air travelers to ‘sign a blank check’ in what will probably be the biggest legislated cost imposition in air transport history. [They] have agreed to a compromise solution that will ensure that aviation joins the ETS in 2012. Associated legislation allows states to retain surplus revenues that [it says] should be used for funding competitive and, allegedly, more environmentally friendly transport, helping the developing world and funding environmental research in aviation.

“[But] there is no compulsion on states to adhere to this recommendation [and] no requirement for [them] to produce annual transparent reports explaining in detail how this revenue has been deployed. Revenue from permit auctioning, if used for purposes other than air transport, is basically a tax. Increasing the percentage of permits to be auctioned would grant uncontrolled access to substantial additional revenue from an industry that already bears higher tax levels than its competitors,” said Ambrose.

Turning to the second package of SES legislation unveiled earlier this year, the ERA official welcomed the prospect of performance targets and separation of regulation from service provision. However, he was hoping for more.

According to Ambrose, what is missing is “unbundling of services. Some air-
navigation services providers [ANSPs] are charging for non-ANSP services.” He cited charges for meteorological information. “It is quite reasonable that airlines use ‘met’ [service], but that should be a free choice of where they buy: it should not be a built-in check [for ANSPs].”

Finally, Ambrose addressed the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), whose competence has been extended to include flight operations and crew licensing and has generated a new rulemaking process for implementation in four years. He is worried about job creation, as well as job duplication–with some tasks in danger of being performed at the European as well as state level.

“My objective is to have a roadmap for EASA that will not enlarge its scope of responsibilities,” said Ambrose. “We need clarity about the role and responsibilities of EASA compared with the national aviation authorities [NAAs].” He compared the establishment of EASA with that of other institutions such as Eurocontrol, fearing a repetition of what he perceived as problems that should have been addressed during their formation.

Ambrose sees the planned Single European Sky as a belated attempt to “clean up” Eurocontrol, which famously still involves more than 30 service providers within the region. “Everyone guards his own turf, instead of asking what is needed to make Europe’s skies safe,” he said. “There’s no compulsion to look at the best way to do things. Why allow every NAA to invent its own [method]?” With NAAs continuing alongside the fledgling EASA, job numbers grow “just as we always expected, but we want to see NAA employee numbers drop like crazy.”

Asked if he is optimistic about the future, Ambrose commented, as if going through a lengthy mental pre-flight checklist: “When [Edmund] Hillary climbed Mount Everest [for the first time, in 1953], it was one step at a time. We keep pressing, in order to move forward.”