Europe’s regional airlines achieved 7.1 percent passenger growth during the first six months of 2011, according to figures published by the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) at its annual general assembly held in Rome last week. However, taking account of the severe disruption caused by volcanic ash from Iceland during the same period in 2010, the group estimated that the underlying growth was, in fact, closer to 4 percent.
Despite this seemingly encouraging growth trend, ERA director general Mike Ambrose still insisted that his members face an uphill struggle in the face of excessively burdensome regulation and discrimination on the part of European authorities. In February, the European Union (EU) transport commissioner Siim Kallas, in the so-called Bruges Declaration, said that given the critical importance of air transport to Europe’s economy, regulators should place no further burdens on the industry. In Ambrose’s view, the industry needs to hold him to this statement, because it still faces new obstacles and burdens.
Among the ERA’s concerns stands the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), which goes into full effect in January 2012. In the face of legal and political challenges to the imposition of ETS on non-European carriers, ERA expressed dismay that the European Commission has apparently failed to consider any sort of “Plan B” that would prevent European operators from bearing an unfair cost burden, if foreign carriers have to be exempt from the scheme.
The association expressed further irritation at recent claims by Connie Hedegaard, EU climate action commissioner, that airlines will actually benefit to the tune of €20 billion from “free” carbon credits during the first decade of ETS. In ERA’s view it makes no sense to characterize the credits as income because they are being issued only in the context of ETS compliance and can be used only for that purpose.
Another concern expressed at the ERA assembly centered on the disadvantage at which proposed changes to slot allocation rules in the EU could place regional airlines. The group has also complained that the EC continues to pump anti-competitive subsidies into the continent’s growing high-speed rail network at the expense of air transport.
“Regulation has changed in Europe and is now politically driven and instead of acting as a facilitator or guardian; the central regulation out of Brussels is politically motivated–and that’s the root cause of our problems,” Ambrose concluded.