Editorial: Every flight begins at the airport

Olivier JankovecBy Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI EUROPE

Welcome to the new look ‘Airport Business’. I hope you like the updated design and the new features we have introduced. You may also recognise that this editorial’s headline is our new motto, launched with our brand new ACI EUROPE website recently.

The spirit of renaewal isn’t limited to our offices. Since the beginning of the year, the recovery of air traffic in Europe has gained further pace. Passenger traffic grew by +9% between January and July, on the back of airlines finally adding more capacity. Of course, that number is inflated by the impact of the 2010 volcanic ash crisis. But even adjusted to ‘business as usual’ conditions, passenger traffic still grew at +4.8%. While that figure is a far cry from the dynamics of aviation markets in Asia and Latin America, it still means that passenger traffic in Europe nearly tripled GDP growth. This reflects the firm resilience of aviation and also points to the unique role of airports as engines of economic development.

Looking ahead, that role will only gain further importance. The global shift in the world economy means that Europe will increasingly become dependent on trade with the new economic powerhouses of Asia and Latin America. In the coming years, BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are expected to grow three times quicker than European economies. Beyond these well-known emerged economies, CIVETS countries (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa) are the new set of up-and-coming markets, with similar prospects for buoyant economic growth and aspiring first-time fliers.

Efficient air connections with these countries will therefore be essential for Europe to forge new business relations, increase its exports and attract foreign investment. In other words, aviation will be a key enabler for Europe to secure its global relevance in a multipolar world. As a result, the European aviation market equally needs to secure its own relevance in the face of new aviation powers with global ambitions.

Achieving this depends on two prerequisites: further opening the skies and developing our infrastructure.

In liberalising its own aviation market, Europe did wonders for our industry. We need to build on this achievement. We must now open the skies beyond our borders – with all of Europe’s main trading partners, as well as with its neighbouring countries across the Mediterranean and to the East. This is instrumental in attracting and developing air traffic flows with these fast developing markets. It is also the only way to effectively protect the position of Europe as a global aviation hub.

We at ACI EUROPE have taken the lead in promoting such an ambitious agenda at EU level. This is not necessarily to the liking of some European airlines. But as stated by our President at our Annual Congress in Lisbon last June: they need to wake up and embrace the new reality! Resistance would only result in retrenchment and slow decline.

Developing aviation infrastructure is the other part of the equation. Europe is on track to address congestion in the sky. The Single European Sky project and SESAR are moving in the right direction, benefitting from strong EU leadership and significant resources. ACI EUROPE is directly involved in many ways, with latest efforts including a comprehensive agreement to assist the SESAR-JU.

But what about congestion on the ground? EU leadership and resources seem to be transfixed on the sky – forgetting that every flight begins at the airport. This is extremely worrying. For the last 5 years, we have repeatedly warned about the looming airport capacity crunch. In the meantime, emerging countries are capitalising on airport infrastructure to support their ambitions to build tomorrow’s leading economies. By 2020, China alone will have built 78 new airports.

Optimising existing airport capacity is a must, but it is far from enough. None of the ambitious objectives of the Single European Sky in terms of ATM capacity, environmental efficiency and economic benefits will materialise if Europe does not build more airport capacity. In the UK alone, the cost of missed trade opportunities resulting from the lack of airport capacity around London-Heathrow stands at £14 billion over the next 10 years. With EUROCONTROL predicting that by 2030 close to 20 major European airports could experience congestion levels similar to Heathrow today, the issue is clearly of European relevance.

In the coming weeks, the European Commission will adopt its ‘Airport Package’. This wide ranging policy initiative will include a review of EU rules governing ground handling, aviation noise and airport slots. It will also look at setting an EU policy for airport capacity. This is THE opportunity for the Commission to set the record straight on airport capacity. And there is a lot more riding on it, than the mere business interests of airports.

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