EU aviation strategy needs to balance environmental and business concerns

Ensuring competitiveness and demonstrating leadership in reducing carbon emissions will require a careful balancing act.

By Colin Mackay

23 Oct 2015

Aviation is a crucial driver of economic growth, pivotal in stimulating business and creating jobs. The European Commission hopes to launch its new and comprehensive aviation strategy in December this year. The strategy will aim to grow the EU air transport sector, make it more competitive while positioning it as a global model for sustainable aviation.

Franck Proust, the French Vice-Chair of the sky and space intergroup, and a member of the European Parliament's transport committee, hopes that the forthcoming strategy will act as a 'new deal' for the sector.

He noted the vital strategic role that aviation plays in driving growth; "by definition, aviation is an engine for trade relations". Air travel - in the form of both airlines and airports - provide the gateway to the EU and its business. 


He highlighted the strong link between well-performing national economies and their public and private investment in air transport. It doesn't matter what methods are used, there always needs to be a clearly and established political will.

This is why the lack of a coherent investment strategy would hamper Europe's competitiveness; "if we no longer have national air carriers or adequate airports, we will lose our position as a global economic power". He called on the Commission to use the aviation package to send a strong political signal to support EU competitiveness.

He pointed to a need to strengthen defence mechanisms against of increasingly resilient global competition. "This is key to preventing any ultra-protectionism that may arise", he said. "Competition is a good thing, but it must be fair and equitable". Unfortunately, this was not the case for all countries. 

The fact that there are no global regulations covering competition in air transport allows governments in third countries to subsidise both airlines and airports. In Europe, he observed, "the opposite is the case". 

He urged the Commission to impose a fair competition clause in any new aviation deals that it negotiates. That way, "Europe and its partners can make sure their companies are fighting on a level playing field".

He also argued that the aviation package should contain measures to help alleviate some of the financial burdens faced by companies in the sector. This was particularly important where international competitors did not face the same costs.

He insisted that there was real "room to manoeuvre", and that the Commission should "review these costs and bring forward proposals to combat them" as part of the new aviation package. However, he said the success of any such measures depended on the airlines themselves undertaking successful restructuring.

Many legacy carriers, he noted, suffer from "disparities in competitiveness". They need to "reinvent themselves through social dialogue, increased productivity, offers on destinations and prices and on-board services".

He warned of the risks of excluding the aeronautical manufacturing sector from the strategy. Although air transport and aeronautical construction are separate markets, "One would not exist without the other". There was a clear value chain linking the sectors, one that must be "highlighted and supported". 

He called on the Commission to use the aviation package to make, "a clear and precise reference to the positive interactions between aviation and aeronautics". He suggested a specific plan for the aeronautics sector, in line with those for the space and motor manufacturing industries.

Jacek Krawczyk, rapporteur for the European economic and social committee (EESC) on integrated EU Aviation policy, highlighted the fact that the EU aviation industry is lagging behind its global competitors.

He expressed his concern that while non-EU carriers are investing in updating and expanding their fleets with new, more efficient aircraft, the necessary return on capital for major European carriers - with the exception of low-cost carriers - was insufficient to justify such expenditure. 

At the same time, a number of leading EU airports are reaching saturation point and will be unable to deal with further growth in passenger traffic.

He emphasised that this was a multifaceted issue, requiring a coordinated approach. It was important to recognise that, "none of the EU's airports, airlines or air traffic systems alone is capable of successfully competing on the global market in the long-term". 

This meant that, "the only way for EU aviation to defend its position in the world is through much closer cooperation and further integration".

The slow progress towards implementation of a single European sky combined with a lack of connectivity to outlying regions and the increasing competitiveness of hubs outside the EU should shape the content of the aviation package. 

He urged the Commission to adopt "a vision of how best to promote European competitiveness" while avoiding "distorting competition or undermining labour standards".

The EESC report identified six areas to boost competitiveness; safety, connectivity, innovation, sustainability, the social dimension and global competition. Not all of these, he noted, required new legislation; rather, it was a question of implementation. 

The SES, he thought, should provide a warning for EU policy makers. "No matter how ambitious a new strategy" he noted, "it will not deliver if it is not properly implemented."

On the issue of ownership and control, the committee recommended that these provisions should not be changed without careful review. The likely consequences of any potential changes require deeper analysis. 

The EESC recommend that the Commission should "consider different options for possible changes to the current ownership and control requirements separately", and that these deliberations should not "delay introduction of the aviation strategy".

He emphasised the importance of closer cooperation, and encouraged all stakeholders to "leave their particular narrow interests behind and agree to look at the bigger picture".

This way, he said, "European aviation can be saved from marginalisation".

Romanian deputy Marian-Jean Marinescu the rapporteur on Implementation of the single European sky-recast, was concerned that the forthcoming strategy would take the appropriate steps to address the contribution that air transport made to emissions.

He was hopeful that the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December would support a global agreement for reducing emissions. Although "the EU has always been a leader" in reducing emissions, he was concerned that the absence of such an agreement would "threaten the EU's economic competitiveness". 

He said it was important to strike the appropriate balance between measures to stimulate economic growth and those that would combat climate change. The final outcome should deliver measures, "that will bring benefits to industry, environment and people".

While he recognised that transport inevitably plays "a vital role in the industrial cycle, ensuring connectivity and mobility", and that it forms "an indispensable component of all industrial sectors today."

However, this must not obscure the fact that aviation remains a contributor to global emission totals. "It needs to adapt and improve in the same way as other sectors do". This was why it was so important to support the clean sky 2 joint undertaking.

The original clean sky joint undertaking played a pivotal role in researching and developing some of the solutions to tackle two of the major challenges of air transport - emission and noise.

The latest iteration, CS2, was delivered under CS1. The idea is to deliver, by 2020, a 50 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions per passenger km, an 80 per cent reduction in NOx emissions and a 50 per cent reduction in aircraft noise. The tools to deliver this will be aircraft and engines that deliver greater efficiency along with improvements to air traffic control.

The research outputs from CS2 will be tested across three integrated technology demonstrators (ITDs) involving large passenger aircraft, regional aircraft and fast rotorcraft such as helicopters.

The outputs of CS2 will, he says, bring "direct benefits" to citizens, in the form of "better, cheaper flights with increased security and greater safety".

He was keen to see that the use of funding for CS2 – some €1.7bn from the EU budget and around €2.2bn of in-kind contributions - is properly evaluated. He advocated "clear and transparent procedures", and urged that, "ex-post audits should focus more on this aspect."

The best way to evaluate the results was "by measuring socioeconomic benefits, including the numbers of jobs created and the degree of contribution to economic growth."

Given the large contribution from EU funds, it was also important to account for the value of any intellectual property that emerged from CS2. The price of any products resulting from the research "should take into account that 50 per cent of the research was financed from the public purse."