Editorial: Serving airports at a critical time

By Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI EUROPE

Bringing this Summer issue of AIRPORT BUSINESS to you is yet another tangible signal that our industry is slowly getting back on its feet. For us at ACI EUROPE, it is also part of getting back to some sort of normalcy.

For nearly 4 months, all our energy and resources have been absorbed by the COVID-19 crisis. From the moment airlines stopped operating and air connectivity essentially collapsed, our absolute priorities have been to secure the conditions that would allow for a restart, to communicate how airports were being impacted and to outline what relief they needed to survive and come back as engines of economic recovery.

These endeavours have led us to work hand in hand with all other industry stakeholders. They have also required getting even closer to the European institutions and reaching out to national governments across the continent. I would like to take here the opportunity to thank the European Commission and EASA for their close cooperation with us. EASA’s COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol has been instrumental in ensuring uniform sanitary measures at airports and thus restoring the confidence of the travelling public. Similarly, without the European Commission’s drive for a coordinated lifting of travel restrictions both within the EU/Schengen and externally, we would definitely not be where we are today.

At a time when the EU project continues to be questioned – with its benefits too often ignored or at best taken for granted – we, as an industry, ought to acknowledge the fact that it is the EU that has effectively enabled the restart of aviation.

Another challenge lies ahead though. With many European governments providing massive but selective financial support to airlines, we are now faced with huge imbalances in the air transport ecosystem. Believing that such aid naturally flows down to airports and other suppliers is to be naïve. The harsh reality of the post-COVID-19 aviation market is already being felt by airports of all sizes across Europe. It is about relentless pressures to further rebate or wave airport charges altogether and much increased airline dominance. Combined with increasing renewed State interventionism, all this threatens the integrity of the Single European Aviation Market. We trust and rely upon the European Commission to ensure that such integrity will be safeguarded.

Airports have been as hard hit – if not more – as airlines and other aviation industry stakeholders. For many, closing down was just not an option. During the darkest moments of this crisis, they kept serving communities and economies – at huge cost – bringing relief services and supplies and repatriating the displaced. Their stories were so powerful that our aggregation of them on our website under the “We Are Aviation” banner was one of the largest sections we’ve ever run.

This is what we now build on as we are moving from restart to progressive recovery. As I write these lines, our latest forecast indicates that Europe’s airports are set to lose 1.57 billion passengers in 2020 – a decrease of -64% compared to last year. This is close to 16 times the passenger volume lost in 2009 in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. We do not see a full traffic recovery before 2023 at the earliest, on the back of unprecedented demand and supply side pressures.

It is obvious that continued consumer confidence will remain an absolute pre-requisite. Airports, already centres of excellence when it comes to safety, now broaden that skillset to encompass health and wellbeing. There is every reason to believe that this comes with an acceleration of some trends which will transform our sector for the good. Increased innovation and digitalisation, already underway but further triggered by an imperative for touchless and remote systems. And, crucially, our undiminished commitment to decarbonisation. We’re working tirelessly to secure aviation’s place in sustainable recovery funding strategies – to “Build Back Better” and enable Europe’s airports to deliver on their Net Zero 2050 pledge.

These efforts, and our enormous push towards a supported restart and recovery via our OFF THE GROUND project which you’ll read more about in this edition, culminated in our recently published 10 Commitments and 10 Recommendations. In these, the airport industry commits unequivocally to keeping passenger confidence and safety at the heart of what we do. We urge Governments and Authorities to match our own commitments with future-proof regulatory certainty, a level-playing field in support and relief, and clear plans to reinvigorate air connectivity and tourism.

All this will keep us very busy in the months ahead. Together with my team, I relish the challenge – as the past months have made us even more passionate about airports and air connectivity.

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