Summer is ending and we can start looking back at some very good months for passenger traffic at Europe’s airports – with the notable exception of Russia. EU traffic has been performing particularly well, providing yet another indication that the Eurozone economies might finally be turning the corner. Despite suboptimal GDP growth and still significant downside risks, aviation is essentially benefiting from a rare moment of harmonious positives. There is little doubt that lower oil prices are an essential part of this equation.
In such circumstances, it is no surprise that several European airlines are seeing improved financials. To some extent, the gap seems to be widening further with those other airlines that are still struggling to adjust to new market realities. Yet, while their fates continue to diverge, Europe’s airlines have finally started to unite their efforts in Brussels – looking to speak with one voice to promote their interest with the EU. As I write these lines, a new European airline association is being set up, with the intention of replacing the patchwork of existing associations.
This move mirrors the convergence in business models across the airline industry, and it should help – in principle – reinforce the collective voice of aviation. It comes at a critical time, as the European Commission is preparing a new aviation strategy for Europe. Unfortunately, it also comes with renewed airport bashing in relation to our charges. Upon announcing their joint effort, the CEOs of the top 5 EU airlines put forward their vision for aviation – a vision which relies heavily on the age-old plea for tighter regulation of airports and mandatory single till – essentially tarring all airports as uncontrolled monopolies. So much for a bold strategic vision and aviation’s collective voice…
Luckily, those portraying airports as monopolies are becoming a (well-known) minority. Airport competition is almost everywhere to see. Just look at the aggressive marketing and route development efforts that are now a must for every single airport across Europe. When it comes to airport charges, the facts are also blunt and unequivocal: charges paid by airlines and passengers only make up for 47% of total airport revenues. This means that airlines are widely subsidised by airports – leaving us with more than €3 billion in unrecovered operating costs each year.
Sadly, the resurgence of the airport charges agenda for Europe’s major airlines reflects their inability to find common grounds on other, more important issues, like Open Skies. It also hides its fair share of protectionism. Asking for lower airport charges is a nice way of keeping further airline competition at bay – as lower charges would curtail the ability of airports to invest to expand their facilities and address the capacity crunch we are facing. So much – this time – for Europe’s future connectivity, which is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the Commission’s new aviation strategy.
Air connectivity has become the number one item on the lips of industry and decision makers in Brussels these days. ACI EUROPE has taken the lead in this debate through its Airport Industry Connectivity report – with the latest update just released last June at our Annual Congress, hosted by Prague Airport. We applaud the Commission’s intention to place connectivity at the heart of its aviation strategy. Hopefully, this will prompt a significant and much needed shift in aviation policy – from still largely airline-centric, to becoming truly consumer-centric.