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European Aviation — A Lifeline for Europe’s Recovery

By  Brussels,

Today the European Commission unveiled its revised Work Plan for 2020 — taking into account the impact of COVID-19. A4E welcomes the EC’s plans to revise the Airport Charges Directive and its action towards a sustainable aviation fuels framework. Both will help boost industry’s recovery from the current crisis.

It is clear that no significant recovery can take place without the restoration of air connectivity — a key enabler of economic activity and the backbone of the European single market. Before the crisis, air transport supported more than 12 million jobs and some €754 billion in EU GDP. Now faced with massive flight cancellations and a grounding of operations due to worldwide travel restrictions, airlines today find themselves in a crisis of existential proportions.

Reduced liquidity levels make it difficult to meet even basic financial obligations. With a forecasted 55% drop in demand for air travel in Europe this year and an €82 billion loss in passenger revenues,Source: IATA economics, COVID-19: Updated Impact Assessment such an impact will have lasting implications for the overall EU economy — particularly for trade, tourism, and investment. The present 90% collapse in air traffic has put almost 7 million jobs at risk and could lead to a negative GDP impact of more than €418 billion across Europe.

COVID-19 highlighted the urgent need to revise Reg. 261/2004 on air passenger rights, striking an appropriate balance between consumer protection and industry obligations. The new framework must be “crisis proof” and adaptable to exceptional circumstances. The crisis equally highlighted the critical role of air transport to secure a continued flow of essential goods and medical equipment during the pandemic. Air cargo has been instrumental in keeping Europe’s supply chains alive. It is therefore absolutely essential to foresee a dedicated role for the air transport ecosystem in future EU recovery plans. The following measures, combined with smart legislation, could ensure both a sustainable and digital return of air connectivity:

  1. A revitalised and open single aviation market: This would improve connectivity and boost demand through affordable fares, enabling the free movement of people and goods. Eliminating restrictions at intra-EU and external borders whilst ensuring a uniform approach across all Member States in reopening air transport is essential to avoid market distortions and ensure a smooth restarting of air traffic (passengers and cargo).
  2. The introduction of a digital single European sky: This would require completing Europe’s single aviation market by reforming the regulatory framework (‘Single European Sky’) and improving its airspace architecture. Given the lack of liquidity in the aviation ecosystem, it is of utmost importance to ensure financing of current operations and secure essential investments.
  3. More effective and targeted regulation of airports with significant market power as well as greater harmonisation of the setting of charges through a revision of the EU Airport Charges Directive: The revision of this Directive is now more important than ever and can help to support the recovery phase by keeping the cost of air travel low.
  4. Support efforts towards more environmentally sustainable air transport: The recovery plan should sponsor the development of innovative aviation fuels, the deployment of low emission aircraft, and other green technologies. Scaled-up investment programmes (e.g. through the Emissions Trading System or European Investment Bank) and adequate legislation would guarantee that air transport can contribute its utmost towards reaching the EU’s critical climate goals.

Ambitious policy measures will ensure that air transport can play its vital role as enabler of Europe’s economic activity also during its recovery. It is now time that EU leaders take action to reconnect our air transport ecosystem and put it back on its feet. Learn more about A4E’s Recovery Strategy in our latest Position Paper.