EC Airport Package

ON DECEMBER 1, the European Commission announced its Airport Package (AP) – a comprehensive review of European airport policy including new regulatory initiatives on airport slots, aviation noise and ground handling.
Reacting to the announcement, Airports Council International (ACI) Europe said it was: “positive about the Commission’s focus on airport capacity but regretted it did not fully deliver the necessary tools for better quality in ground operations.”
Its Director General, Olivier Jankovec, said: “The Commission has come to terms with the reality and impact of the airport capacity crunch.  The discrepancy between the priority given to developing capacity in the air and the lack of attention to developing matching capacity on the ground is simply not sustainable.  This is genuinely hurting the passenger experience, constraining the performance of aviation and jeopardising Europe’s competitiveness.”
While ACI Europe says it supports most of the measures listed by the Commission to optimise the use of existing airport facilities – in particular the proposed improvements of the slot allocation system and the deployment of the Single European Sky ATM research (SESAR) – it also reiterates that these will not be enough to address the looming problems with insufficient airport capacity.
“The indisputable need for additional airport infrastructure means governments must face up to their role in maintaining Europe’s global relevance,” it said in a statement, adding: “ACI Europe fully supports the European Commission asking Member States to develop and provide national strategies on airport capacity, taking into account network implications – in particular the need to ensure the success of the Single European Sky.”
Mr Jankovec added: “Given what is at stake for Europe in relation to airport capacity and the paralysis which has struck many governments on this issue, there is no doubt that the European level needs to play a greater role.”
Looking specifically at airport slots, he added: “Let’s face it, improving the system is overdue, in particular to make it more efficient with regard to use of scarce airport capacity.  The present rules were developed by incumbent airlines for incumbent airlines – they must become fully transparent and airports need to be more involved, notably through local rules.  This is a legitimate request, since the way airport slots are allocated dictates the way our facilities are used, with consequences on our operations and ultimately, our business.”
ACI Europe is urging the forthcoming Danish Presidency of the EU to make both airport capacity and the new Slot Regulation an agenda priority.
On the issue of aviation noise, the EC proposal provides clarifications on the introduction of operating restrictions and the implementation of ICAO’s Balanced Approach in Europe, which defines that when airport noise problems are identified, the various measures available to reduce noise are studied in detail.  However, ACI Europe says that it is “adamant” that any new stringency level must be: “reasonable and still allow airlines to make the most of the economic life of their assets”.
On the subject of Ground Handling, and its quality at airports, the package acknowledges the need for airport operators to be able to control and coordinate the “different actors” using their facilities, in particular ground handlers.  “This is not the case today and needs to be adequately addressed – as it is essential to driving increased performance in ground operations to the benefit of passengers and effectively contributing to the Single European Sky,” says ACI Europe.
However, in a joint statement issued together with the Independent Handlers’ Association and the respective trade unions on December 1, it added that it: “rejected the uncontrolled deregulation of ground handling proposed by the Commission”.
Meanwhile, the Association of European Airlines (AEA) has said it welcomes the new AP proposal which is: “aimed at increasing the competitiveness of the European airport ground handling market.”
Secretary General of AEA, Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, said: “Airlines are still dependent on service providers which, in many cases, operate as monopolies.  This is not good for airlines or passengers.  This regulatory proposal is a move in the right direction because it will encourage competition and improve service quality.”
At smaller airports, however, choices will remain limited.  The AEA says it believes the new rules: “could be further strengthened if airport users are given a greater say in the tender process where caps on ground handling levels remain.”
Regarding capacity issues the AEA said: “New airport capacity is a member state issue, but the Commission recognises this growing problem as a real threat to Europe’s competitiveness.  It attempted to tackle this issue by revamping the slots rules, but this is the symptom not the cause.”  Mr Schulte-Strathaus added: “The need for capacity at major hub airports must be urgently addressed at member state level.”
On the subject of encouraging greater noise stringency the AEA urged member states to: “explore the full range of noise mitigation techniques rather than focussing solely on operating restrictions.”
The AP proposal will now be passed to the European Parliament and Council for consideration.