Green deal for aviation: EU needs to start building a greener, more socially and economically robust future for aviation, argues Isabel García Muñoz

EU aviation sector’s green and digital transformation must be accompanied by a just transition that leaves no one behind, say Sky and Space Intergroup MEP.
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By Isabel García Muñoz

Isabel García Muñoz (ES, S&D) is a member of the European Parliament’s Sky and Space Intergroup

22 Dec 2020

The aviation industry is a vital strategic sector and one of the main pillars of the European economy. It boosts economic growth and helps support businesses, including SMEs and start-ups in their development. Additionally, it creates highly skilled jobs across the European Union and fosters Europe’s knowledge economy through substantial investment in research and innovation.

Furthermore, the aviation sector is fundamental for the continent’s territorial and socioeconomic cohesion and for the connectivity of all EU territories, particularly peripheral territories, islands and outermost regions. In this area in particular, civil aviation has a direct economic connection with the tourism sector, another strategic industry for the EU.

Over the years, the proper functioning of the aviation sector and its related value chains has provided safe mobility for passengers and freight.

“In the S&D group, we are defending a Green Deal with a red heart; this means that we believe the green and digital transitions have to be accompanied by a just transition towards climate neutrality”

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the aviation sector has been critical for the supply of essential health care goods and products. In the coming months, the aviation industry will again play a crucial role in the smooth transportation and distribution of essential vaccines.

The Coronavirus pandemic has been a systemic shock for the EU’s aviation and tourism industries, negatively impacting companies, SMEs and workers. The crisis has also brought into sharper focus two further challenges that the sector was already facing, the ecological and digital transitions.

The European Commission has recognised, on several occasions, the importance of the transport and tourism ecosystems to the EU’s competitiveness. Aviation is key for both sectors.

Therefore, given the state of play in the sector, it is vital that we have an EU coordinated and non-discriminatory approach to stimulate the recovery of the aviation sector. To do this, we must first, urgently develop an EU Common Strategy for Aviation, one which allows us to start building a greener, more socially and economically robust future for aviation in the medium and long term.

This common strategy should serve as an EU road map and enable the sector to meet the EU’s economic and environmental transition challenges, to address the liquidity problems faced by our companies and SMEs, and the challenges faced by our workers.

Contrary to some voices, the European Green Deal remains more relevant than ever and should be at the core of this EU Common Strategy for Aviation.

In the S&D group, we are defending a Green Deal with a red heart; this means that we believe the green and digital transitions have to be accompanied by a just transition to climate neutrality for companies and workers, without leaving anyone behind. This should also apply to the aviation sector.

We, as policymakers, should make sure that we address and mitigate the social consequences of the Coronavirus crisis in our industry recovery plans. Furthermore, we should guarantee that the green recovery of the sector ensures an optimal level of workers’ rights and secures fair working conditions.

Training and education programmes will be needed to re-skill workers so that they can meet the new needs and demands of the sector, in line with the green and digital transitions. In addition, this common strategy should leverage the production and uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, complemented by the deployment of corresponding charging points.

At the same time, we should reinforce research and innovation policy to achieve a real transformation to sustainable aviation. Furthermore, we need to implement a green incentive scheme for airlines and aircraft operators to replace their older and more pollutant aircraft. Circular economy initiatives should be further explored as an opportunity for the aviation to become more sustainable.

In addition, new, economically efficient recycling technologies should be developed with the aim of reducing scrap metal from aircraft components. Ultimately, we need to address infrastructure shortfall and invest in green infrastructure in the aviation sector. For all these reasons, we need a European Union common strategy to stimulate the recovery of the sector and make it future proof and in line with environmental and social sustainability.

“In the coming months, the aviation industry will again play a crucial role in the smooth transportation and distribution of essential vaccines” 

The “Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy”, presented by the European Commission last week, addresses some of the issues I have mentioned and is a good first step, but we need more.

The recently agreed “Aviation Roundtable Report on the Recovery of European Aviation”, released by the wider aviation ecosystem i.e. manufacturers, unions, representative bodies and other stakeholders, is a key step forward and could set the baseline for this EU Common Aviation Strategy. In conclusion, the solution to the European Union’s recovery needs should be “more Europe”.

The long-term EU budget for 2021-2027, NextGenerationEU and national recovery plans, as well as European Union coordinated measures including a coordination strategy for vaccinations, are crucial to prevent a multi-speed Europe where Euroscepticism can thrive.

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