EU aviation rules must ensure fair and open skies

Written by Markus Pieper on 21 December 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

The new aviation competition regulation must ensure fairness while leaving no room for protectionism, says Markus Pieper.

Markus Pieper | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


The European Union needs an effective tool to ensure that competition in its expanding aviation sector is fair. Until now, it did not have such a tool, unlike some of our global competitors. The new regulation on competition in air transport should fill this gap. We must ensure that what comes out of our legislative process ensures fairness for Europe’s stakeholders in a highly competitive global market.

We must also be careful not to adopt a law that could be used for protectionist measures. We have seen time and again that protectionist measures do more harm than good, and end up generating extra costs for the consumer. Our aviation sector could benefit greatly from competing with carriers from outside the Union
and our passengers even more so. This industry is among the frontrunners in safety and excellence globally.

Fair competition will contribute to maintaining this leadership, as will investment coming into the sector from outside. Europe has always welcomed investment - it is an ingredient in the recipe for success.


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Parliament’s work will be guided by the overarching aim to ensure the best air connectivity for our citizens.

This is also why we must ensure the new regulation is proportionate and flexible. However, we will be firm in setting rules that will filter out market distortions caused by illegal state aid or discriminatory practices.

Our work will be challenging, as there are no internationally-agreed rules on ensuring fair competition in the aviation sector. Not even the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), an international body tasked with vast regulatory responsibilities, has dealt with this thorny issue. 

Currently, the only rules are those laid down in bilateral air agreements, which do not necessarily provide an unfair competition clause. Add to this a myriad of unilateral rules on, for example, the distribution of landing slots and it is plain to see that this is a daunting task.

Nevertheless, the regulation’s main purpose is not to punish, but rather to be persuasive and to deter rather than to force. We should be ready to engage and explain to our partners around the world what we want to achieve with these new rules. Air traffic is growing globally (an average of five per cent annually until 2030, with Asia growing at 15 per cent) and as such we must seize the opportunity to be pioneers in ensuring fair competition for everyone concerned.

Member states can rest assured that their bilateral air agreements will be respected, yet I also ask them to have a common sense approach. Where more than two member states are concerned would it not be logical to use a common European regulation?

We also want to make it possible for an individual airline or a grouping of airlines to have the right to call for an investigation into unfair practices in addition to any member state having this right. 

A timeline within which the European Commission will have to decide on the validity of the complaint will also be part of the law, as well as regarding the entire length of any investigation. As such, we will not have any more procedures ‘put on ice’. 

Transparency has always been very important for the European Parliament and we expect the Commission to keep everyone concerned involved or informed. If asked for information, both operators and member states will be obliged to respond. The proof of injury or threat of injury to the EU interest must be framed very clearly in the law so as to avoid misinterpretation. 

Defining the EU interest in this case is one of the most difficult issues of the whole regulation, but I believe we will come to a satisfactory result.

We are also aware that although we can draw inspiration from other defence instruments, such as those in trade, we cannot build an inflexible system. Many of our citizens’ air connectivity relies on third country carriers, particularly those that are not in the catchment zones of hub airports.

Let me restate: we will not compromise on citizens’ air connectivity.

I look forward to the debates in the European Parliament and with all stakeholders involved, as these will undoubtedly contribute to a law can count on broad support and that will safeguard fair competition so that passengers can enjoy flying in safety, with good service and at a good price.

 

About the author

Markus Pieper (EPP, DE) is Parliament’s rapporteur on safeguarding competition in air transport

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