Editorial: 2012 – The Moment of Truth

Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI EUROPE
By Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI EUROPE

To some extent, last year has proven to be a surprisingly good year for European aviation. Despite dark clouds gathering over the economy, passenger traffic has shown a remarkable resilience throughout 2011, growing in excess of 7%. Of course, a closer look ultimately reveals a much contrasted picture between national markets, well beyond the usual divide between a mature Western Europe and an ‘emerging’ Eastern Europe. But the underlying trend is that passenger traffic has systematically outperformed GDP – even in a country like Greece, where it kept growing by nearly 2% in the face of an economy shrinking by 6.6%.
Were it not for falling freight traffic, this should be reason enough to celebrate. But with a stalled European economy and slowing growth in emerged economies like China and Brazil, freight is now firmly in recessionary mode. Whether air freight will bounce back or whether more structural factors are at play, remains to be seen. Lower production costs and reduced selling prices for many consumer goods may indeed no longer justify air shipment.
In any case, 2012 is set to be a moment of truth not just for aviation but for Europe as a whole. The ability to overcome the sovereign debt crisis and put back economies firmly on a growth trajectory will determine our collective fate. While passenger traffic has kept growing in January and February, the almost simultaneous demise of Spanair and Malev Hungarian Airlines does not bode well. Together with the state of the economy, several other determinants will affect aviation – including fuel prices, national aviation taxes and rising air fares resulting from the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS).
It is rather puzzling to realise that three of these traffic determinants are specific to Europe. It looks like they will further widen our competitive gap vis-à-vis the new powerhouses of this world, where economies are truly aviation-enabled. Conversely, Europe is increasingly becoming aviation-disabled. And the worst is that it does not seem to care that much about this worrying development.
The UK Government’s decision to yet again increase its aviation tax – despite evidence that this is costing in excess of 90,000 jobs within its economy – is a case in point. At European level, support for aviation is at best erratic. Policy making has become unaligned, often lacking ambition and strategic focus. All industry associations were indeed puzzled last year, when it surfaced that the European Commission was considering the possibility of an EU aviation tax. There is now serious concern at how the EU ETS has become a looming trade conflict potentially holding European aviation hostage.
Despite pleas to the contrary, is the EU missing the bigger picture? For many, EU priorities and rules still remain far too focused on its internal dimension – and not enough on addressing the shift in the global economy and the might of State capitalism in the emerging world.
These are key issues for Europe’s airports – not just for large hub airports but also for our regional airports. In the same way as Low Cost Carriers are said to be the brainchild of aviation liberalisation, regional airports have become a cornerstone of Europe’s transport network. More than 500 million passengers are now passing through their doors annually. International traffic has largely driven their growth, with a staggering increase of 84% over the last 10 years. This has allowed regional airports to become drivers of local economic growth, connecting their communities not just to the national hub(s), but to a much wider range of destinations.
This issue is precisely focused on regional airports, bringing you up to date with the latest challenges that these airports are facing, straight from the vantage point of 4 leading airport directors. This is quite timely, as the European Commission is in the process of reviewing its guidelines for State aid to airports as well as start-up aid for new routes from regional airports. Our Regional Airports’ Forum is closely monitoring this process, and this is likely to be a much debated issue at our 4th Regional Airports Conference hosted by Aerodrom Ljubljana in early April.
As usual, we profile a number of airports in this issue, but also cover a wide range of policy and other industry developments – ranging from economics, finance and airport privatisation to commercial revenues as well as the latest news regarding safety and the environment.

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