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Sustainability: “We Are Not Willing to Create an Unreasonable Burden for European aviation.”

Interview with Pekka Henttu and Maja Ahokas on the aviation priorities of the Finnish EU Presidency.

By  Brussels, — Last updated on 31 March 2020

A4E: Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union began on 01 July. In what direction will you be taking the EU and its transport policy during the next six months?

MA: Yes, we have just started our Presidency so we are very much eager and looking forward to it! Our slogan is: “Smart connections for sustainable growth”. We have four main policy areas:

  • 1 Digital transport services;
  • Safe and sustainable automation of traffic;
  • A fully carbon-free transport system;
  • 4 Data — we want the EU to be the frontrunner in data utilisation.

We have now officially approved our governmental program following the April parliamentary elections, and climate change is one of the big priorities.

Finally — and I hope you are not disappointed — we will not be distributing any gifts. We will be relocating those funds towards offsetting the carbon emissions that will be generated by the air travel needed during our presidency.

A4E: All of the issues you mentioned are affecting air transport. On the sustainability front, Finland appears very ambitious: you want to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, and you will push the carbon neutrality debate at EU level. These are all, from an aviation perspective, extremely challenging proposals.

PH: Indeed, sustainability will be at the top of our desks. And our newly appointed government is very ambitious in its environmental focus. Europe has unique opportunities to lead these environmental projects, including in the aviation industry.

Very advanced technology and solutions like alternative and biofuels exist. What we need now is proactive politics to create market and business opportunities in these new fields. We fully understand that we have to carry out our responsibility: Whatever we are doing for a better future, for an acceptable future, we need to take into account the competition conditions for Europe’s aviation industry. We are not willing to create an unreasonable burden for European aviation.

Misinformation also needs to be addressed: EASA carried out a study asking people: “Do you think that CO2 emissions from aviation are higher than 4% of global emissions?” 92% of respondents thought that it was much higher than 4%. This is a clear message that we have to keep informing passengers. That is one reason why EASA has prepared the idea of an eco-labelling for air transport, which might be a good tool to address this information deficiency and provide accurate data to passengers.

A4E: Also on the topic of sustainability and the future of the sector, we know that by not having a Single European Sky, we miss the opportunity to save up to 10% of CO2 emissions. SES II+ is a big dossier falling on your laps. What do you think are the main hurdles to get it moving?

MA: SES is a big topic and it is a priority for the Presidency. Even more so as we expect this summer to be a “black summer” — with many delays, a stressed airspace and a very bad situation overall. We need to take action. We will be hosting an event in partnership with the European Commission, the ‘Digital European Sky Conference’. It will bring together over 350 stakeholders to discuss how to best move forward, building on the recommendations of the Wise Persons Group and the Airspace Architecture Study. A conference declaration to be presented to the Council’s Aviation Working Group will be prepared. A policy debate will take place during the December transport council meeting. SES is a very important policy topic for us.

A4E: A big issue that derives from this “black summer” of ATC delays in Europe, and the disruption it causes to travellers all across the continent, is the issue of the EU261 Passenger Rights Regulation. This dossier has been stuck since 2014.

MA: The previous presidencies have done a good job and we have tried to advance the file as well and have been communicating with the Commission on this issue. DG MOVE and Steer will be releasing a study later this year on passenger rights and will be sharing the preliminary results with the Finnish Presidency. A workshop will be organised with the Member States to collect their views on the study. Further action will then depend on the outcome of the workshop.

A4E: A subject which has only grown in popularity is digital connectivity, something your country has been particular active in. How do you see that playing out in our industry?

MA: Digitalisation is a word that was used very often throughout our previous government’s program. Now it is a part of our daily lives. There are so many benefits to digitalisation, and in Finland we consider aviation to be a frontrunner in this aspect. We call data the 5th transport mode, and believe we should apply data as much and into as many aspects as we can, mostly through the opening of our API:s. For example, in other transport modes it is not always evident that you can buy coach tickets on third-party websites rather than in the company’s own platform. The availability of data is crucial to create multi-modal travel chains and promote Mobility as a Service (MaaS) — this is a central concept in Finland and something that we try to advance in the EU and globally. We believe in legislation mandating data to be made accessible to service providers and we will promote this principle to the EU level.