Despite the deluge of negative news about Europe’s mounting financial crisis, things are not as bad as they might seem, according to Fabio Gamba, the new chief executive of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA). The Brussels-based group predicts that business aviation is still set to grow by 4 percent this year, even in the face of a possible double-dip recession, with northern parts of Europe showing stronger growth compared with the weaker economies of the south.
Nonetheless, the new EBAA leader was quick to acknowledge that these are extremely challenging times for many of members of his organization. “We hope that the second dip of the recession will be less painful,” Gamba told AIN. “We can’t tell you yet but it looks like it will be a few tough months before we can say that we are in recovery mode.”
Gamba has yet to fly in a business aircraft, but he is no stranger to air transport, having previously served as deputy general secretary of the Association of European Airlines (AEA). He takes over from Brian Humphries, who continues in his role as EBAA president. Earlier this year Humphries indicated to AIN that the association had been keen to recruit a successful airline lobbyist because it has seen how successful Europe’s airlines have been in protecting their interests–sometimes at the expense of business aviation (even if this was an unintended consequence of their efforts).
“We need to be a bit more vocal in getting business aviation the recognition it deserves,” commented Gamba, while stating that EBAA has already made the sector “a force to be reckoned with.”
Making the Case for Business Aviation
As he starts to engage more directly with European politicians he intends to confront them with cold, hard facts to convince them that business aviation is something that deserves fairer treatment in the regulatory playing field. He will use so-called key performance indicators (KPIs) to prove that business aviation is an integral contributor to Europe’s much-needed economic recovery, rather than being little more than luxury for rock stars and their ilk.
“We want to replace this with a more accurate image,” he explained. “We want to press on people’s minds the fact that business aviation has a direct impact on national economies. That it employs 200,000 directly is something that we repeat each time we see the political decision-makers.”
In fact, he indicated that EBAA probably needs to develop further studies to deliver more facts and figures, following on from the study it commissioned from accountancy group PwC in 2008. This showed business aviation enabled other sectors of the economy.
“What makes business aviation unique is that it allows companies to be extremely flexible–for example, to visit three or four cities in a day,” continued Gamba. “[And] there will always be a need for corporations to go and see, visit, and sign contracts and so on. But we need to quantify this, to show the advantage [of business aviation] to corporate Europe…so we want to extract examples and figures through our members.”
Gamba is will be turning directly to EBAA members to come up with the case studies that he and is lobbying team need to make a stronger case for business aviation by showing where its real added-value lies. Essentially his message to those who would over-burden bizav is: “This is what we allow Europe to do, so imposing further taxes [on us] is just shooting yourself in the foot.”
After taking office at EBAA on September 1, Gamba has quickly grasped how disproportionately the business aviation industry can be affected by regulation and a restrictive operating environment, compared with the European airlines. The burden of compliance with the European Union’s controversial emissions trading scheme is a prime example of this. “You can’t have the administrative costs outweighing the fees collected from bizav,” insisted Gamba. He warned that this imbalance could all too easily be repeated through the wave of threatened new national taxes being proposed around Europe, in what is supposed to be a single market. The UK proposal to extend airline passenger duty to business aircraft is a prime example of this trend.
At the same time Gamba argued that there is a need for more proactive regulation in some areas, such as clamping down on illegal charter flights. “It is undeniable that there is a growing gray market especially for charter activities,” conceded Gamba, who said that charter companies had been hit harder than other operators by the downturn. “This is totally unacceptable,” he stressed. “It would be easy for us to blame the regulators, an easy shortcut even if it is partly true–because most of the national authorities are short staffed, with not enough resources to verify [that operators are complying with the law].”
Earlier this year, EBAA launched a campaign to make charter customers more aware of the dangers of using illegal charter flights. “We could just shout about it and wait for the regulator to its job [but] our position is that we shouldn’t wait, because it will take years,” said Gamba.
Overall, he concluded, “[the illegal charter market] shows the dichotomy in Europe–heavy legislation on the one hand and an inability to implement or police it properly on the other. This is why the European Commission slogan ‘Better Regulation’ is so important.”
Why change hats?
So why did Fabio Gamba make the leap from the powerful airline corner to fighting for the little guys in business aviation? “I had this sense that business aviation was at a crossroads–the same feeling I had when I joined commercial aviation five years ago,” he told AIN. “The business aviation sector represents more than seven percent of IFR flights in Europe, so now it is compulsory for any decision-maker to automatically consider bizav as well as considering low-cost and legacy carriers. This is why it triggered my interest; it’s a real challenge,” he concluded.