One year on from our ‘What’s in the box’ story about the launch of the Airport Package, the question to ask may now be ‘Where is it right now?’ The past year has seen a lot of behind-the-scenes movement on the various dossiers, as the legislative process was progressing. This process involves the review of each Commission legislative proposal by both the European Parliament and the Council, the latter representing Member States. While the Commission has the power to initiate and make legislative proposal, the power of final decision rests with the European Parliament and the Council.
As is customary, during the drafting of the individual Parliamentary reports on each of the proposed pieces of legislation, the full gambit of stakeholders expressed their views: airlines, airports, local communities, ground handlers, slot coordinators and more.
The levels of compromise sought are evident when you look at the numbers: the proposed Regulation on Ground Handling (to replace the existing EU Directive on Ground Handling) was subject to no less than 500 proposed amendments, while Airport Slots also attracted some 290 proposed amendments and Aviation Noise has also seen around 300 amendments proposed. All of which risks watering down the Commission’s original ambitions, or taking the proposal to unforeseen territory. So, what’s the update on each of these dossiers?
Back in March, the EU Council of Transport Ministers agreed a ‘general approach’ on the European Commission’s proposal to introduce a regulation on Ground Handling, replacing the existing directive. Meanwhile at the European Parliament, two EP Committees reviewed the legislative proposal. The Committee for Transport & Tourism debated the main elements of the regulation, while the Committee for Employment and Social Affairs had responsibility specifically for the employment and social elements of the regulation. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from both Committees analysed the proposed legislation with respect to their Committee’s area of responsibility. The Employment Committee already adopted its own opinion in September, however a major upset occurred on 6 November when the TRAN Committee rejected the legislative proposal on Ground Handling.
This rejection vote on Ground Handling was heavily influenced by a massive demonstration on the eve of the vote in Brussels of ground handling unions/workers, which fiercely opposed further liberalisation and deplored the lack of adequate social protection. Following this rejection of the Ground Handling proposal by EP TRAN, the next steps of the legislative process for the entire Airport Package are unclear at the time of writing. For Ground Handling, the proposed rejection by EP TRAN is due to be put to Plenary vote at the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on 11 December. This means that the full Parliament will vote on whether to uphold EP TRAN’s rejection of the proposed legislation or to keep the proposal alive – unless the Commission decides to withdraw the proposal beforehand.
In relation to the other 2 parts of the Airport Package, namely Airport Slots and Aviation Noise, the EU Council of Transport Ministers agreed a ‘general approach’ on these issues amongst Member States in October and in June respectively.
Agreement on some aspects of this dossier was complicated, with some Member States very reluctant to see a change in the rules and clearly willing to protect incumbent airlines. While some of the European Commission’s original goals have remained, in particular in relation to legalising secondary trading, increasing the transparency of slot trading, reinforcing the independence of slots coordinators and allowing for airlines to be fined for improper use of slots, one key ingredient has been removed. The European Commission’s original proposal included an increase of the current ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ rule from a minimum ratio of 80/20 to 85/15 together with loner slot series, which would have afforded airports better use of their existing capacity.
EP TRAN also voted on this issue, when it met on 6 November, but it adopted the report by Giommaria Uggias MEP (& the amended, corresponding legislative proposal) and this will now go for vote in the plenary session in Strasbourg on 11 December.
Regarding the European Commission’s proposals for the regulation of noise-related operating restrictions, EP TRAN also voted on this in its 6 November meeting, adopting the report of Jörg Leichtfried MEP (& the amended, corresponding legislative proposal). Here the biggest shift has been that the Commission’s right of scrutiny prior to the introduction of operating restrictions at airports has been considerably reduced. This is disappointing for airports, as the Commission’s right of scrutiny was key to ensuring a better (read less political) implementation of the ICAO’s balanced approach to aircraft noise management.
So, all in all, the Package remains together for now. The vote on these new rules in the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 11 December will be a decisive moment. A number of EU media outlets have reported that European Commission Vice-President in charge of Transport Siim Kallas is understandably unhappy that the original Airport Package has been watered down during this regulatory process. It remains to be seen how insistent the Commission will get about the Package’s original intentions.
Expect to hear and read more on this in the coming weeks.