Editorial: Connecting Aviation Policy with Market Reality

By Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI EUROPE

Olivier Jankovec

Europe’s airports certainly did not need yet another terrorist threat in the final days of 2009 to conclude their most challenging year on record. With nearly 3 years of growth lost for passenger traffic – the equivalent of close to 100 million passengers gone – and 4 years of growth lost for freight, the past year already deserved to be called an annus horribilis.

So it has been quite a relief to see traffic returning to growth in the first months of the new decade. Still, we are cautiously optimistic, as the pace of the recovery looks set to be slow. Although 2010 forecasts for GDP growth in Europe stand at above 2%, there are still significant uncertainties, starting with the financial woes of some European States. The economic recovery continues to be mainly export-driven, with unemployment still growing and European consumers refraining from spending. Hence the contrast between a dynamic freight traffic recovery and very modest passenger traffic growth. This is likely to remain a pattern for the months ahead, with airlines focusing on yield recovery and demonstrating restraint as regards growing capacity, especially legacy carriers. Low Cost Carriers may well be the only ones bringing new traffic streams this year.

Against this background, the order of the day for European airports continues to be about cutting costs and protecting their competitive positions – but without losing sight of the long-term and the need to keep developing their facilities so as to be ready for the full rebound. In doing so, airports are adjusting their strategies to reflect and capitalise on the new structure now clearly emerging for the European aviation market. This is not only about airline consolidation and the forthcoming dominance of the low-cost model on intra-European routes, but also about evolving airline and passenger requirements driving diversification and innovation on the ground.

Just as the entire aviation sector is adapting to new market realities, significant institutional changes are underway in Brussels. Following the arrival of a new European Parliament last summer, a new European Commission has taken office in February – with a new Commissioner in the driving seat for the transport portfolio. A much overdue review of the priorities for the EU transport policy is to be completed by the end of the year. While this exercise is expected to confirm the priority given to the decarbonisation of all transport modes, it is also expected to restate the importance of mobility for a truly integrated and competitive Europe.

There is little doubt that aviation and airports in particular are of paramount importance in this regard. Indeed, while you are not going to go very far with a few miles of rail tracks or road, a few miles of runway are enough to fly you anywhere in the world. In other words, there is simply no adequate substitute for most of the 150,000 air routes that constitute the European aviation network.

As the voice of Europe’s airports, ACI EUROPE has been closely involved in this policy review. The Policy Outlook for Europe’s airports that we have just launched is precisely about re-asserting the contribution of our sector to society – a contribution that policy makers too often tend to overlook or take for granted. Crucially, this publication is also about advocating our vision for the development of aviation policy in Europe in the years to come. Taking stock of the crisis, we look forward, and call for the key challenges that European airports are facing to be addressed: airport capacity, the environment, global connectivity and efficient and sustainable security.

“Economic realities are moving faster than political realities”. This statement by the European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, has applied to airports for too long. Like previous ones, this issue once again illustrates the continuous process of business transformation pioneered by Europe’s airports – be them major or secondary hubs, large or small regional airports. As Europe is about to set a new course to emerge stronger from the global crisis towards sustainable growth, this is the opportunity to ensure that our economic realities are fully reflected in policy making.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *