ERA Says New EU Aviation Policy Falls Short

 - March 9, 2016, 10:35 AM
ERA member airlines seek an EU strategy that promotes "connectivity," and not simply monitor it.

The European Regions Airline Association has issued low marks for what ERA director general calls the European Union’s “flagship aviation policy,” particularly on points most directly involving the association’s 50 member airlines. Launched in January last year, the new EU Aviation Strategy “tackles most of the big strategic topics,” such as monopolies and taxes, consumer rights, lack of long-term capacity in European airports and the ATM network, said ERA director general Simon McNamara. However, it contains little in the way of what the ERA chief characterized as “deliverables.”

“We gave it a ‘six out of ten–could do better’,” said McNamara, speaking at a March 4 “roundtable” event at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London. “We wanted more but this doesn’t deliver…and the deliverables and actions are weak.”

McNamara catalogued a series of “good” and “bad” points about each area. For example, the proposal “recognizes the value of connectivity” but, complains McNamara, the EU will only monitor connectivity, not promote it. “It just promises new guidelines on current PSO rules,” he added. “[Public Service Obligation routes are, however,] not widely used and are not consistent; some governments don’t recognize the value of PSO routes while other countries overuse them and discriminate between carriers.” But the ERA maintains that the PSO system can, if administered properly, “ be a fair way for governments to promote connectivity.”

On economic regulation, McNamara said that aviation-specific taxes almost always prove damaging. “But there’s no concrete plan to remove them,” he said, nor does the strategy offer a plan to remove the intra-EU scope of the Emission Trading Scheme,” he added.

On the Single European, Sky McNamara said that while SESAR (the SES ATM Research program) has shown good progress, reform in consolidating ATC centers continues to come slowly, due to national protectionism and employment issues. Meanwhile, the so-called “SES 2 Plus” legislation remains “stuck,” he said.

Jonathan Sullivan, managing director of Seabury Group, pointed out that excess flying in EU airspace each year “wasted enough energy to light the whole of Paris all winter...just because of concerns over sovereignty. Yet the overlaps in radar head coverage is extraordinary.”

The other big issue in Europe remains passenger rights. While Regulation 261/2004 remains in place, the ERA sees a need for a major review under the new aviation strategy. “We urgently need a 261 replacement to come into force,” McNamara told journalists. Meanwhile, he warned that legislators have proposed guidelines on the current regulation that could act to “rubber stamp recent court rulings and risk delaying much-needed reform.” The ERA told EASA in writing that Regulation 261 judgments “are getting out of control” and could prove detrimental safety, given rulings on “extraordinary circumstances” that result in pressure on crews when technical issues exist that could cause an expensive delay or cancellation. “IATA has expressed similar views,” he added.

On the issue of airport capacity, McNamara warned that, according to the EU’s own estimates, 12 percent of demand will go “unaccommodated” by 2035.

“That’s two million flights and represents a €28- to €58 billion GDP loss,” said McNamara, citing figures from Eurocontrol’s Challenges to Growth study. “Nobody in Europe is taking decisions on delivering more hub capacity [yet] outside Europe there is plenty of capacity coming online,” he complained, citing the new Istanbul airport as an example.

He admitted that the impending “Brexit” referendum (the UK vote on June 23 on whether to stay in the EU) and disagreements between the UK and Spain over ATM reform, for example, have delayed and hampered decision-making in Europe.

McNamara concluded that the ERA agreed with the reform of EASA and the “Basic Regulation,” especially the “stronger focus on performance-based regulation.” But he stressed that nations, not airlines and airports, should fund anti-terrorist security measures.