These are the hardest times the global business aviation community has ever faced, the industry was told by its leadership at yesterday’s opening general session of the EBACE show. Just as companies struggle to stay afloat in the treacherous undercurrents whipped up by a financial crisis of historic proportions, they are having to avoid being dragged down by the unwelcome weight of a new wave of regulatory requirements.
In a keynote address, Brian Humphries, chief executive and president of the European Business Aviation Association, reiterated the group’s concerns about how business aviation will be constrained by new regulatory efforts like the emissions trading scheme (ETS) and “inappropriate blanket security proposals.” Business aviation access to airports is also affected by growing low-cost airline traffic, he said, using airports that previously were available exclusively for general aviation use. “The situation is as challenging as any we’ve ever seen,” he told EBACE delegates.
Key officials from the European Commission and Eurocontrol joined Humphries and NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen on the podium. Following the opening general session, EBAA chairman Rodolfo Baviera joined his colleagues in cutting a ribbon to open this year’s show.
The ETS issue is particularly troubling because business aviation emits a fraction of the carbon dioxide attributable to other industries. Given the aerospace industry’s continued improvement of turbine engine efficiency, he said, “Rather than hide, we should be proud of our achievements. As the ETS goes into effect, government regulators need to understand that we aren’t flying in disregard to the environment.”
Humphries is proud that EBACE’09, the show’s ninth year, is shaping up relatively strongly considering the state of the economy. The static display has four more aircraft than last year and some exhibitors had to be wait-listed. Registration of attendees reached 9,500 yesterday, on course for this year to be the show’s third-largest.
NBAA’s Bolen was able to join the opening session, but had to leave directly afterward to return to the U.S. to testify at a Senate hearing on reauthorization of FAA funding. “We’re very concerned. Business aviation did not receive the fair treatment it deserves,” he said, complaining about the impact of ETS. Under the European ETS, a business aviation flight from Los Angeles to London would have to offset carbon emissions for the entire flight, not just the portion flown in Europe, which Bolen said, “is unconscionable. It’s difficult for us to understand that.”
Even taking the recession into account, European air traffic is expected to grow 41 percent by 2025. Daniel Calleja, the European Commission’s director of air transport, said he is pleased that business aviation is represented in efforts to reduce air traffic management costs by 25 percent, one of the elements of the single-European sky initiative. Calleja also mentioned plans to expand EASA regulatory coverage to include aerodrome safety and air traffic management as well as adding the framework for EASA to manage accident investigation.
With regard to ETS, which will be fully in force from 2012, he said, “The Commission is willing to work with you. We need to find a workable system, and we are very keen to find a solution that takes into account the concerns of business aviation.”
Eurocontrol director general David McMillan was here yesterday on his first visit to EBACE. While business aviation traffic in Europe dropped 20 percent year-over-year in the first quarter, it grew the fastest of any segment during the past five years. “I currently hope we’re at the bottom of the cycle,” he said. The recession “knocked three or four years off of traffic growth, [but] the decrease in traffic is not a long-term trend. We need to prepare for the future.”
One big change for Eurocontrol is its new air services board, a stakeholder partnership that includes business aviation as a board member. McMillan observed that 80 percent of business aircraft operators fly fewer than five aircraft and that Eurocontrol needs to deal differently with these kinds of operators. “We’re keen to work with EBAA to facilitate a lighter touch,” he said.