Since March 2016, Thomas Reynaert is Managing Director of Airlines for Europe (A4E), Europe’s largest EU airline association which was launched in January 2016, founded by Air France KLM, easyJet, International Airlines Group (IAG), Lufthansa Group and Ryanair.
“Economic regulation of airports is required where monopolies exist and transparency is needed when calculating airport charges.”
How did emerge the idea of creating Airlines for Europe?
A4E was founded by Europe’s five largest airline groups – Air France KLM, easyJet, International Airlines Group, Lufthansa Group, Ryanair – to represent the interests of its members towards the EU institutions, international organisations and national governments on European aviation issues. During the last months, our member base grew towards an even broader representation of the different airline business’ interests in Europe. Since A4E‘s launch Norwegian, Finnair, Jet2.com, Volotea, Aegean, TAP Portugal, airBaltic, Icelandair, Cargolux and Travel Service joined the founding members. We focus on uniting European airlines to take forward changes that increase our competitiveness and result in lower fares and more choice for passengers.
Due to strikes from air traffic controllers, more than two million passengers have been affected since 2010. What are the main data managed by A4E that reveal the negative impact of ATC strikes on the mobility of Europeans?
Over the period 2010-2016, there have been 30,000 flights of A4E airlines cancelled due to ATC strikes, affecting nearly 2.2 million passengers. There have been 217 days of strikes by air traffic controllers in Europe – equivalent to almost one full month of strikes every year. These disruptions are concentrated in a small number of EU countries, but have EU-wide impact on air traffic, as on a day of ATC strike in one country, on average 69% of European traffic will be delayed. In general, the cost of these disruptions is borne almost entirely by the users of the air traffic system (i.e. the airlines), rather than by the providers. In the period 2004 to June 2016, 67% of all strike days occurred in France and caused 96% of all delays recorded as being due to ATC industrial action. Few if any States elsewhere in the world are experiencing the EU’s level of industrial action of the recent years against the air transport system.
What are the medium-term solutions proposed to reduce the impact of the strikes?
A4E is willing to provide active support to ANSPs and their employees if they respond to our call to voluntarily undertake, as soon as possible and without delay, to actively and in good faith participate in arbitration or another form of conciliatory procedure consistent with the relevant national law before threatening industrial action. Being able to protect flights overflying the country affected by industrial action while ensuring this does not come at the expense of flights to and from the country affected is of crucial importance. Furthermore, we believe that a 21-day advance notification of strike action and a 72h advance notification of participation in industrial action, at individual employee level, should be provided, so as to improve the predictability of the level of disruption and to implement cooperation mechanisms to explore means to minimize the impact of ATC service disruption.
Since A4E’s launching in January 2016, what are the main challenges achieved and the coming one’s for the future?
In the 18 months of its existence, A4E has achieved important steps in its priority policy issues. Recently and one year after the launch of A4E’s Free Movement Call for Action campaign, the European Commission has published its recommendations for measures to reduce the risks and impact of Air Traffic Control strikes in Europe as part of its statement on “Aviation: Open and Connected Europe”. Although we still have a lot of work to do, we managed to put the issue of ATC strikes on the EU political agenda and the Commission’s initiative provides us with the tools necessary to step up our efforts in those countries where industrial action by ATC workers is causing most of the disruption, both locally and Europe-wide.
Going forward, our campaign to push for a review of the EU Airport Charges Directive is gaining momentum, as we recently published the preliminary results of our latest study on airport profitability. It becomes increasingly clear that in order to create a level-playing field between airlines and airports, and for our customers to enjoy the benefits they are entitled to, there is a need for economic regulation of those airports which are in a monopoly position and for the European Commission to equally ensure that member states provide the independence, the competencies and the resources to enable national regulatory authorities to do their jobs.
Also, A4E has been opposing unreasonable taxes on aviation and we have closely followed the Italian government’s decision in 2016 to increase the taxes on passengers charged at Italian airports by €2.50 – overnight and with immediate effect. We consider the fact that this decision was suspended, avoiding suppressing effects on the Italian economy, as a great achievement.
A4E will continue challenging work with European institutions and stakeholders in order to deliver reliable and efficient airspace by reducing the cost of Air Traffic Control (ATC) provision through completion of the Single European Sky and better economic regulation at EU. Stimulating more economic activity and jobs by creating the right regulatory environment and removing unreasonable taxes on aviation will remain one of ore key priorities.
What about Airport charges? Do you think regulators will improve transparency or there’s still a long way to run to achieve it?
A revised airports’ legislation would save European passengers hundreds of millions of euros, especially when airline fares are getting lower, but airport charges are rising. Preliminary results of a York Aviation study on “The Cost and Profitability of European Airports” show that European passengers are paying excessive airport charges, particularly at monopoly airports and airports which operate under a Dual Till regime. Under a Dual Till regime, the profits from airports’ commercial activities such as shopping or parking are not re-invested in lowering airport charges for consumers, despite the fact that this revenue would not be generated without them in the first place.
For A4E and millions of European passengers the EU Airport Charges Directive (‘ACD’) is an inadequate piece of legislation – it must be reviewed urgently. Economic regulation of airports is required where monopolies exist and transparency is needed when calculating airport charges. Therefore, the European Commission must revise the ACD to regulate these monopolies, initiate in-depth market power assessments and ensure that national authorities have the proper competences and resources to regulate effectively.
A4E is not the only European airline lobby group. What are its main strengths?
Airlines for Europe (A4E) is Europe’s largest airline association, based in Brussels that represents more than 25 airline brands and plans to grow further. With more than 550 million passengers on board each year, A4E members account for more than 70 per cent of the continent’s journeys, operating more than 2,700 airplanes and generating more than EUR 100 billion in annual turnover. A4E is well positioned to address our industry’s issues. For the first time, low-cost, leisure, network and cargo carriers have joined forces. We share the same challenges in Europe and therefore it is easy to agree on common positions.