Empty skies in Europe, grounded airplanes, cancelled production orders and falling passenger numbers. These are the drastic challenges the aviation sector is currently facing, all due to the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Eurocontrol, air traffic density in May 2020 was 90 percent lower than in May 2019.
By December 2020, this figure was still 60 percent lower. IATA (the International Air Transport Association) predicts that a full return to 2019 levels cannot be expected until late 2024. Enormous financial, economic and political efforts will be essential if the sector is to recover.
However, there are also opportunities - decarbonising aviation, implementing the Green Deal and realising the Single European Sky require a coherent, comprehensive policy approach, based on cooperation and trust from all stakeholders. As vice-Chair of the Transport & Tourism Committee, I have been working tirelessly in recent months to mitigate the consequences of closed borders, lockdowns and unilateral measures by several Member States.
“That is why it is of vital importance to now plan a clear way to recovery with effective measures that assist the ‘go-around’ of aviation”
To me, ’transport’ means ‘freedom’. Cross-border mobility is a precondition to European values of mobility, jobs and connecting people. That is why it is of vital importance to now plan a clear way to recovery with effective measures that assist the ‘go-around’ of aviation. I welcome the recently published guidelines for air travellers by EASA and the ECDC.
These clearly state that travellers should not be considered as high-risk, nor treated as contacts of COVID-19 cases, unless they have been in known contact with a confirmed case. The prevalence among air travellers is estimated to be lower than that in the general population. Therefore, they should be treated the same way as locals and subject to the same regulations.
I urge Member States to consider and implement these rules to increase trust in the travel industry. This will provide the appropriate support to ensure rapid recovery of the sector while upholding health standards and principles. Greening aviation is a key topic for me. According to the European Commission, renewable and low carbon transport fuels must reach a five percent share in aviation by 2030, and over 60 percent by 2050.
I strongly support efforts to develop new technologies such as batteryand hydrogen-powered aircrafts (such as Airbus’ zero-emission aircraft concept). Indeed, there is already a viable option, in the form of ‘sustainable aviation fuels’ (SAFs).
The Commission has also already launched the ambitious “Refuel EU Aviation” initiative, but for this to work requires a stable policy framework that can provide certainty for companies to invest and help boost the uptake of sustainable fuels. Furthermore, we must have a clear definition of what constitutes sustainable aviation fuel. The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) is a chance to realise this, as it offers a wide interpretation of sustainable feedstocks.
The message is clear; sufficient investment in necessary technologies and infrastructure needs to start now, supported by public and private money, as well as SMEs, to increase the share of SAFs. There seems to be an overreaching commitment by all stakeholders in the sector to ‘green’ the sector.
The Single European Sky (SES) initiative will be a key tool. Reducing CO2, along with a more efficient and adaptable air traffic management, are the first step. As Renew Europe’s Shadow Rapporteur on the SES2+ recast, I am convinced that these first steps can quickly become reality.
However, the latest Transport Council in December 2020 revealed that there are still difficulties in finding a common agreement among transport ministers when it comes to negotiating these first steps. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that we can realise the potential for greater liberalisation in the air traffic sector by making use of digital solutions and market-based incentives for all stakeholders.
“I am optimistic that we can realise the potential for greater liberalisation in the air traffic sector, by making use of digital solutions and market-based incentives for all stakeholders”
The whole of Europe will benefit from fewer delays, greater climate protection and a more resilient and competitive system. Member States with advanced sovereign rights in air traffic management must now cease their blockades so that these goals can be reached; such outdated monopoly structures must now be reconsidered.
In December 2020, the Commission also published the “Smart & Sustainable Mobility Strategy”. This sets out the orientation of transport policy for the coming years. In general, I am disappointed. Without action these hodgepodge declarations of intent and unclear visions are nothing but empty promises. I support the call for open technology-based decarbonisation of the transport sector across all modes of transport, but the Commission needs realistic tools and methods for achieving this. Without proper infrastructure, it will be impossible to maintain a shift to sustainable modes of transport.
Furthermore, these changes cannot be implemented purely at the expense of Europe’s citizens. After all, the future of mobility is mobility for all.