Olivier Jankovec became Director General of the European Region of the Airports Council International (ACI EUROPE) in September 2006.
He first joined ACI EUROPE in March 2006 as Director of Strategy & Communications. Olivier has over 18 years of governmental and lobbying experience, having worked for Alitalia (2002-2006), Air France (2000-2002) and the Air Transport Directorate of the European Commission (1994-2000). Immediately prior to joining ACI EUROPE Olivier was the Director of Institutional Relations for Alitalia where he was in charge of governmental affairs at the national, European and international levels. During this time he was also Chair of the Association of European Airlines Policy Committee.
In 2006 and 2007, he participated in the EU´s High Level Group on the future of aviation regulation in Europe and he is also a member of the Advisory Board of the World Tourism Forum.
“A big part of what we do is to represent and defend the collective interests of the airport industry”
ACI Europe was founded in 1991. That’s 25 years representing the interests of European airports. How has its role developed during this last quarter-century and what have been the greatest challenges overcome?
The role has changed substantially, basically in two ways, which are very closely related. The first one is that our industry has changed tremendously over the past 25 years. Airports used to be just infrastructure providers, they were focused on the interests of the national airlines, many of them were publicly financed and there was not much private investment. Basically airports were not business 25 years ago. Today we have experienced a huge transformation in the sense that airports are now businesses in their own right, public financing is running out and there has been a huge amount of private investment in airports, especially in Europe. Also they no longer have to cater for just the national airlines, they now have to cater for any airline, and there is tremendous competition between airports.
I think this business transformation has reflected on what we do and how we do it. First of all because when we were formed back in 1991, there was not a lot of regulatory attention on airports at European level. The focus was to deregulate and create an intra-European aviation market, but the focus was really on airlines. Since then the European Commission has extended European aviation policy to infrastructure providers and to airports. So now if you look at those regulations that impact our members across Europe, 80% of them originate in Brussels. So, back in 1991 ACI was formed more as a club or as a place for airports to network, to benchmark and to share expertise. Basically the focus at that time was about advancing and promoting airport management best practices. Over the years, because of the rise of regulatory intervention, along with this business transformation, the lobbying part of our work has become much more important.
Today a big part of what we do is to represent and defend the collective interests of the airport industry and to make sure that there is recognition from policy-makers that in our industry airports are businesses in their own right. Also that the regulations are not too focused on the benefit of other stakeholders in the aviation sector, like airlines for example.
We have had to get involved in a lot of issues that we were not necessarily covering 25 years ago, things such as economics, airport charges, safety and security. You know, 25 years ago safety and security were national competencies, there was no common framework at EU level. Also the environment of course, this has risen as a major issue for airports and the aviation industry in the last 50 years. So as you can see, there have been major developments in many aspects. Basically today, regulations cover most of the aspects in airport management and development. So, as regulations have expanded we have expanded our remit as an association, developing our own technical expertise, working closely with our members to make sure that the positions we take are membership driven.
The second aspect is that I think 25 years ago most European airports didn’t really think twice about being members. I don’t think they really questioned at the time the value of the membership in terms of what was the return on the fee they were paying. So today, because of this business transformation in the sector and because of increasing airport competition, we cannot expect an airport to be a member of ACI just for the sake of it. Our members are now really looking for value, and I think that’s absolutely right because that’s what an association should be about. It should be about delivering value for its members.
With more than 18 years of experience in European aviation, especially in government matters, do you think that the different states are in favour of imposing legislation on a sector which generates so much business?
Well, unfortunately they have been in favour for a long time already! We are a sector that gets a lot of regulatory attention. I think that the origin of these regulations dates back to the setup that was designed after the Second World War through the Chicago Convention to regulate aviation, because it was considered a state activity. And clearly, to some extent we still live with this inherited idea that aviation should be regulated. But if you look at the pillars of those regulations, especially on the economic side or on the market activity side, or at bilateral air service agreements between states that regulate the traffic rights between them, none of these have been designed with a business mind. They have basically been designed to organise the market and to prevent competition.
So really, the challenge today is actually to deregulate, or to regulate in a way that allows the sector to go through a normal development process. The aviation industry needs to be freed from all of this regulatory interference which is always politically driven. Most of the time it is not in line with the business interests of the different players in the sector. Or perhaps it may be directed towards the interests of some of the players, at the expense of the interests of others. But what really strikes me is that none of the regulatory frameworks take into account the interests of the consumer, the passenger. This I think prevents the sector from delivering more from the sector in terms of air connectivity and economic benefits and jobs.
I think, to be honest, we have come a long way, and certainly the EU has been instrumental in that, as back in 1993 it really pushed for the liberalisation of the intra-European market. I think without the EU it would have probably taken 20 more years before that would have happened.
That liberalisation has allowed airports to chase any airline. It really has allowed airports to develop and to position themselves as businesses.
We’re not where we were in 1946, of course, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job if you look at the regulatory framework for intra-European air services. But if you look externally, with the exception of our relationship with the US, Canada, potentially with Brazil, then you will find that our aviation relationships with the rest of the world are still governed by those antiquated bilateral air service agreements. I don’t think that’s good for the business and I don’t think that’s good for the consumer.
So there’s still a way to go…
In December last year the European Commission presented a new strategy for aviation with four priorities: position the EU at the forefront of international aviation; reduce fragmentation in the European market; maintain high European standards, for security, the environment, social aspects and passenger rights; and progress in terms of innovation, digital technology and investment. How is work progressing on implementing this strategy?
I must admit that we have seen a clear change of direction with the present European Commission with this new aviation strategy. For the first time there has been a willingness for the first time to align aviation policies around this positive externality. They have tried to redirect aviation policy more towards the consumer and the development of air connectivity because of its role in supporting the economy.
I think there is a new mind-set, certainly at the level of the commission. The difficulty is in the delivery and in alignment with national member states around those objectives.
This strategy is something that we have been calling for during the last few years so we were very pleased that the commission actually did it. It was one of the top priorities of this new commission. All of the top priorities are about how to promote, growth, jobs and investment, so it was very important for us that aviation be part of that agenda. Commissioner [Violeta] Bulc has done a tremendous job of pushing aviation into the wider policy framework of the new EU Commission. The difficulty now, if you look at this aviation strategy, is in the external market. How can we export or replicate the benefits that our intra-European market has created?
Europe and North America are losing their historic supremacy. Emerging markets are growing, and account for and ever-increasing share of global growth. Although it is slowing down a little at the moment, this great rebalancing of the world economy, which is actually the biggest economy transformation in modern times worldwide, is going to continue. Emerging markets are going through some problems at the moment but this rebalancing is really a far longer term phenomena.
In that context, Europe is more dependent on external trade and in turn is becoming more dependent on air connectivity. Therefore they realised that there must be a new strategy for aviation in terms of the economic agenda. The difficulty of course, however, is in the delivery. The member states must implement what the commission is proposing themselves by negotiating new aviation agreements with other markets such as the Gulf States and Turkey for example, to try and liberalise market access and introduce a common regulatory framework between those countries and the EU. This is really the big added value of this aviation strategy.
We are seeing, however, differing attitudes between member states, so it is not easy to move forward.
Keeping up with the constant growth in the sector while also reducing environmental impacts seems like a difficult objective. The ACI Europe initiative, Airport Carbon Accreditation, has now become an international programme. What are its main challenges over the short and medium term?
I must say that we’ve been very pleased with the success of this programme.
Seven years ago when we launched the programme our initial aim was to get a commitment for the industry towards reducing carbon emissions and move towards carbon neutrality. We realised that by starting with Europe, with close to 500 airports, it would be very difficult to reach an agreement between the members. Different airports of course move at a different pace in relation to carbon management. So we turned around the logic and we decided not to make commitment to set a day or a month to reach carbon neutrality, but rather we decided to make a general commitment to make our industry reduce its carbon footprint. What we decided to do was create a tool or an instrument that would allow our members to progress with that commitment in a measurable way. And that’s how airport carbon accreditation was born.
So, today we have 155 airports worldwide. I think it started in Europe, but we are very pleased to see that other ACI regions and their members have quickly become interested, and now the programme has global coverage.
I think we now cover about 33% of global passenger traffic with airports that are carbon accredited, which is really good. In Europe we now cover 65% of passenger traffic, also really really good. There are now 105 airports in Europe. And what is interesting is that in Europe we already have 20 airports that have reached carbon neutrality. That gave us the confidence to move forward and make for the first time a quantifiable commitment. Last December we committed to having 50 carbon neutral airports in Europe by 2030.
So, the challenge for us is to increase the penetration of the programme, in terms of especially getting smaller airports into the programme. You know, smaller regional airports don’t have a lot of resources, they don’t necessarily see climate change as a more pressing issue. Actually their most pressing issue is to get more traffic, not to control their environmental footprint. So I think this is where we really still have some way to go.
If you look at the airports that are certified they are mostly larger airports. We do have some smaller ones, but by far and large we have generally attracted the big guys or the medium sized guys.
Then another challenge is, as we continue to get more airports accredited, we wonder what the end game is going to be for the programme. This is something we are starting to reflect. Is it to evolve at the same time as the industry is evolving? At a certain point in time we will need to find the end game for the programme. Of course we are not yet there, but I think it is important that we keep focused on the long term, to make sure that the programme stays relevant.
Airport connectivity is a key issue in the aviation sector. In a recent report published by ACI Europe the lack of connectivity between EU and non-EU hubs was highlighted, with a call being made to the EU to make policies more liberal. What is ACI Europe’s stance on this?
A number of years ago there was a lot of talk in Brussels about air connectivity and how it was important. People were mentioning this concept, and we realised that nobody had really defined what it meant. So that’s why we decided to look into the issue, to measure and analyse air connectivity. That’s why we produced our reports. They gave us a lot of data, from which we could identify the trends.
The first one is that the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 has been a turning point in terms of connectivity development, in the sense that before the crisis the traffic figures and connectivity were growing in parallel. However since the crisis there has now been a separation. Passenger traffic is now growing very nicely, there has been a very good recovery. But that hasn’t been matched by a similar recovery in our level of air connectivity.
The second thing we saw is that although our large European hubs are in a good position in terms of overall connectivity, they were losing ground in terms of inter-continental connectivity with the rising competition of the Gulf hubs. The first issue we identified very clearly is that regional airports have been much less resilient in the wake of the financial crisis. That prompted us to highlight this issue with external relations along with the issue of aviation liberalisation. We said that the response to those challenges was not to close our aviation market. The response is actually to open our market more, because what we are seeing today is a lot of growth coming from emerging markets, with big hubs and very large global airlines. We have seen a significant increase in air connectivity between emerging markets, however some of them have quite restrictive bilateral agreements. Therefore we have seen that we could have an advantage if we move first and liberalise access to those markets before they liberalise between themselves, we stand a better chance of protecting our market provisions and hold the global position of Europe.
How can Europe improve its competitiveness while charges still exist in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Austria? Is the Single European Sky close to becoming a reality?
The commission has underlined the Single European Sky in its new aviation strategy, or rather the lack of Single European Sky. They have made all the right proposals to make it a reality, the problem is that member states are not following suit. The commission has proposed regulatory packages to push forward with the Single European Sky, but they are blocked in the council because member states don’t want to progress. I’m not very optimistic.
In the aviation strategy the commission also raised the issue of aviation tax. It questions the logic of these taxes if our objective is indeed to allow aviation to contribute more to economic growth. But again this is not an EU level competence, this is up to those member states concerned to become more rational and more logical and do away with their aviation taxes.
I think the commission has really set the right direction, it has proposed a strategy, but has underlined a number of things required, with the help of the member states, to turn that strategy into a reality.
This is what worries me a little, as there is currently friction and increasing tension between member states at EU level. I see the overall climate, in terms of promoting an EU agenda and delivering more Europe, becoming increasingly difficult. Clearly the political environment is not helpful for us as aviation. We need more Europe, not less.
Where I am more optimistic in terms of the Single European Sky however is in terms of the technological programme related to it, I’m talking about the SESAR programme. It has entered the deployment stage, and I think we are seeing some very promising new technologies and new operational processes that are going to be rolled out. The way the deployment of SESAR is being managed is very good, because it is industry led. This hopefully ensures synchronisation, which is key to make sure that we deploy SESAR in a cost effective way, and in an operationally efficient way.