The European Commission released an “Aviation Strategy for Europe” on December 7 that seeks to bolster the continent’s €110 billion aviation sector by negotiating new air transport agreements, revising safety regulations and investing in new technology. Groups representing European airlines and pilots said the plan is not ambitious enough and lacks specificity.
“This strategy is a result of the collaborative work of all stakeholders in the aviation ecosystem and innovation value network,” said European commissioner for transport Violeta Bulc, who announced the plan’s release in Brussels. “Today’s plan will see safer, shorter, cleaner and cheaper flights, more choices and more destinations” with a “reduced security burden.”
A part of the strategy the EC will present to European Union lawmakers this month calls for negotiating comprehensive EU-level aviation agreements with states comprising the Association of South East Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Turkey, China, Mexico and Armenia. The commission also seeks authorization to negotiate dedicated aviation safety agreements with China and Japan and “one-stop security” arrangements with Canada and Montenegro.
The strategy seeks to revise aviation safety rules dating to 2008 to stay current with the growth in air traffic. It calls for further progress on innovation, including the need to “unleash the full potential of drones” by producing a legal framework for their commercial operation, and continued investment in technology through the Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) effort to modernize the continent’s ATC infrastructure. The EU plans to invest €430 million on Sesar annually until 2020.
In a joint statement, the Association of European Airlines, the European Business Aviation Association, the European Express Association, the European Low Fares Airline Association, the European Regions Airline Association and the International Air Carrier Association said the EC to its credit recognizes that aviation is a key driver of economic growth. But the aviation plan “lacks ambition” and does not propose adequate measures to strengthen the industry, they added.
“What’s really good about [the plan] is the positive terms in which it talks about aviation as an enabler for jobs and connecting people,” said Simon McNamara, director general of the UK-based European Regions Airline Association (ERA), which represents mainly intra-European carriers. “It’s also very good at highlighting the problems we’re facing; for example the lack of hub airport capacity within Europe. Where it’s weak is the actual action plan, the substance to actually fix these problems. There really isn’t a lot of substance in there.”
Speaking with AIN, McNamara said the association hoped to see a more concrete action plan for building and developing new airport infrastructure in specific areas and within defined time frames. “When hubs run out of airport capacity, the first people to get squeezed out are regionals because smaller aircraft operation is not worth as much to an airport as a larger aircraft operation both financially and in terms of passengers,” he said. “It’s a big issue for us.”
The EC has also pledged to “swiftly” revise the system of slot allocations, a proposal left over from the previous commission. But airlines disagree with airports as well as with each other about who controls slots, how slots are grandfathered and secondary trading of slots between airlines, which is legal in some countries in Europe and not in others, McNamara said.
Not normally in favor of additional regulation, the ERA supports a revision to aviation safety rules that would give the European Aviation Safety Agency a stronger role over national aviation authorities, and regulations governing the use of small drones in controlled airspace, McNamara said.
The European Cockpit Association (ECA), which represents pilot associations, similarly welcomed the plan’s endorsement of aviation as an enabler of economic growth, as well as its proposed new aviation safety and drone regulations, but said it “remains short of ambition and lacks concrete measures” on the industry’s “social dimension.” The pilots group has cited labor issues, including “atypical employment forms” some operators use, “social dumping” of foreign workers and airlines that relocate their business to “flag-of-convenience” countries as issues the European Union needs to address.
“The Commission brings forward crucial proposals and clearly acknowledges the strategic value of aviation in Europe,” said Dirk Polloczek, ECA president. “But on a number of issues, we need to go further than describing what we already know. In particular, after years of consultations, it is time to make the so-far disregarded ‘social dimension’ an integral part of aviation policy. The Aviation Package clearly fails to do that and is highly disappointing in that respect.”