Coordination can heal European fragmentation
European carriers suffered a 73.7% drop in traffic in 2020 compared to 2019, making it one of the worst affected regions. Together, European airlines have lost 27 billion euros.
Dependence on international traffic saw the decline continue into 2021. March, for example, saw an 88.3% drop in traffic compared to March 2019 and a load factor of less than 50% .
“Before COVID, Europe had efficient connections,” says Rafael Schvartzman, IATA Regional Vice President for Europe. “The European Union (EU) area was a single market, similar to the US internal market. This intra-EU connectivity has disappeared. What we have now is fragmentation.
Anything that can accelerate the recovery of European carriers and improve their future efficiency is to be welcomed. IATA Travel Pass contains all the passenger information necessary for safe and efficient travel. It will inform passengers about the tests, vaccines and other measures they need before travel, details of where they can get tested and, most importantly, the ability to share their tests and vaccination results in a verifiable way. which also protects privacy.
The aim is to give airlines and governments accurate information on the state of passenger health in the face of COVID-19 and therefore the confidence that they can restart their operations and reopen the borders. And especially from a European point of view, it can be integrated into the COVID-19 certificate of the EU.
The interoperable, secure and GDPR-compliant health certificate is an essential tool to facilitate the free movement of people within the EU and reopen travel in a safe and responsible manner. The EU also called for free and accessible testing and full equality so that no additional measures, such as quarantine or additional testing, are imposed on travelers with a valid EU COVID-19 certificate. .
“The certificate will help restore trust,” says Schvartzman. “It will bring something that was missing; a set of coordinated and harmonized rules to restore connectivity. And through integration with IATA Travel Pass, this harmonization and connectivity can extend to the rest of the world.
Indeed, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission (EC), said the EU would grant unlimited access to vaccinated travelers from the United States.
IATA chief executive Willie Walsh called it “a step in the right direction.” He added: “It gives people hope for many reasons: traveling, reuniting with loved ones, developing business opportunities or returning to work.”
Recently, France and Spain relaxed COVID-19 border measures for vaccinated passengers and adopted wider use of affordable antigen testing, although harmonized measures across Europe are still a long way off.
“Many European states have yet to significantly soften their borders,” Walsh said. “This fragmentation should be replaced by a unified approach that is consistent with the recommendations of the EU to which they belong. Citizens, businesses and economies would all benefit from greater alignment across Europe to ease measures and restore freedom to travel. “
However, it is not enough to simply recover. The goal for the industry is to build back better. If this is to be the case, the EC still has a lot of work to do.
Clearly, it must kick off the sadly languid Single European Sky. The June 2021 Transport Council, in which transport ministers participate, must adopt more ambitious objectives.
“The state’s inaction meant that the ESS goals were not met,” says Walsh. “New legislation, as proposed by the Commission, is the only way to force the reform and improvements that are desperately needed. But the intransigence and selfishness of the main EU states and their air navigation service providers (ANSPs) threaten to derail the Commission’s latest effort. “
The ESS is vital for a safe, sustainable and efficient European air transport industry. Some of its advantages include:
- a ten-fold improvement in safety performance
- more capacity and fewer delays, giving a boost of 245 billion euros to Europe’s GDP and one million more jobs per year from 2035
- A 10% reduction in EU aviation emissions, supporting the European Green Deal.
“Europe speaks well of the importance of sustainability and competitiveness,” says Walsh. “It’s time to take action behind those words with the SES. If the combined weight of the climate crisis and the COVID-19 crisis are not convincing enough drivers for SES, it is difficult to know what could be. “
IATA supports giving regulators the power to impose strong performance targets. It also endorses the strengthening of the pan-European grid operator to improve efficiency, which will help reduce delays and emissions.
Walsh believes that a failure of the Commission proposal would be a lost opportunity for change when it is vitally needed. “And the environment and the European economy will pay a heavy price, as will travelers and airlines,” he said.
Concerns about airspace efficiency are reflected on the ground as airports seek to recoup their financial losses by increasing air charges, regardless of the damage this may cause to their airline partners and to the travel industries. and tourism in general.
Heathrow Airport will be allowed to extract higher passenger fees to cover losses from the pandemic (2020-2021) from 2022, even though its landing fees are already the highest in the world.
The Spanish airport operator AENA, meanwhile, wants to increase user charges at its 46 airports by 5.5% over five years. Indeed, the analysis shows that the AENA could reduce its costs by 4%.
Schvartzman says higher costs will delay a rebound in tourism and keep jobs at risk. The number of destinations with direct connections to Spain increased from 1,800 (2019) to 234 (2020) during the pandemic and more than 1.1 million Spanish jobs were lost or threatened and more than 60 billion euros of GDP have been lost. The contribution of travel and tourism to the Spanish economy fell from 12% to 4%.
“The AENA should think longer term and focus on profitable airport infrastructure,” suggests Schvartzman.
The Spanish government needs a clear roadmap if aviation is to boost the country’s overall economic recovery. Some 82% of tourists arrive by air and Spain is a world leader in the international conference and trade fair sector.
“Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and all Spanish policymakers must agree on a vision for how international travel can and will be revived when the pandemic ends,” said Schvartzman.
In fact, all national governments must also play their part in a rapid and efficient recovery of European aviation. Most have given airlines short-term financing, either in return for equity or in the form of a loan. Some “green” terms attached, which may work well with older planes removed. In theory, airline fleets will improve, which will benefit the environment and the airlines’ bottom line.
“Industry needs to remain aware of tax levels, especially green taxes that do not serve the environment or help the industry to rebuild better,” said Schvartzman. “And governments must also support the urgent deployment of sustainable aviation fuels.”
Another vital area for the future is slot regulation.
“It’s hard to know what will happen in the years to come,” concludes Schvartzman. “After all, you could never have predicted what happened so far. But it’s important not to repeat the mistakes. Europe’s fragmentation was the worst. Regional connectivity must be maintained through to a data-driven approach that would also trigger global connectivity. ”
Schvartzman highlights key variables including speed of restart, coordination of health certificates and overall financial situation with airlines being heavily in debt.
“Passenger confidence is vital,” adds Schvartzman. “Clearly the demand is there. But if the rules authorizing travel are not synchronized, airlines will no longer be able to meet this demand. “And how long will the demand be there if there is no supply?” Aviation can become strong again, but it needs a coordinated response from all stakeholders. “