Mr. Athar Husain Khan is CEO of the Association of European Airlines. He joined AEA in 2007 as General Manager Infrastructure, where he was responsible for value chain issues such as the airline–airport relationship, airport charges, airport capacity, slots, ground handling, passenger rights and social affairs. In 2011 he was appointed Deputy Secretary General and since 2013 he is the Chief Executive Officer of AEA.
“The SES is far too important a pan-European project, with too widespread benefits, for it to be allowed to fail.”
The association tries act as a link between its members and industry’s regulators. How has the relationship between European airlines and the industry changed?
We can say that we see a positive change. For a long time AEA and its member airlines have been asking for a new EU Aviation Strategy for Europe that addresses the many issues and competitive disadvantages European airlines are confronted with due to burdensome regulation or the lack of adequate infrastructure. We are happy to see that our lobbying efforts have received a positive response from the current EU Commission, in the form of the proposed new EU Aviation Strategy. This is definitely a step in the right direction. However, we are not fully satisfied with the proposals put forward by the Commission and are pushing for further improvements to make the Strategy even more ambitious. 2016 is a key year for the European aviation industry as the current Aviation Strategy discussion creates a unique momentum to increase the competitiveness of European airlines. This is extremely important given the crucial role aviation plays as an engine of Europe’s economy and mobility. Europe’s airlines realise a turnover of 450 billion euro per year, strongly contribute to the connectivity of the European regions and enhance social cohesion. We welcome the fact that the European policymakers have finally recognized this contribution.
Recently AEA met with EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc to discuss the aviation strategy for Europe. In your opinion, what are the concrete proposals the new aviation policy should focus on?
We have suggested a long list of concrete policy initiatives to the Commission, with the aim of making European airlines stronger and more competitive. More concretely, we have asked the Commission to create an environment in which our airlines can grow. This can be done by improving infrastructure on the ground (airport capacity, liberalisation of ground handling services) and in the air (creation of a Single European Sky so that air traffic control can be organized in a more efficient way, with more direct flights and fewer delays). With regard to environmental issues, we urge the Commission to take a balanced approach that takes into account the industry’s efforts to become greener, in particular through the global initiative to create a worldwide CO2 compensation scheme based on market based measures. We are also asking the Commission to improve its highly controversial Passenger Rights legislation and to ensure a level playing field within Europe and between European and non-European airlines.
The Association of European Airlines has been working for carriers for over 60 years. What are its main achievements during this time?
AEA has been the trusted voice of the airlines throughout its existence and has made successful contributions in many areas. We believe that one of our biggest achievements is that we have always pushed for liberalisation of the industry so that competition can flourish, to the benefit of the consumer. We also made sure that our industry became safer by working closely with the various aviation safety bodies in Europe (EASA, national civil aviation authorities, etc.).
Regarding aviation’s impact on the environment, the global market-based measurement (MBM) under ICAO will be developed this year and will be implemented from 2020. What are the next steps?
As airlines we are ready to assume our responsibility in the environmental discussion. AEA’s member airlines do this by investing in new technology (new generation aircraft, and other ‘green’ initiatives such as single engine taxiing at airports, continuous descent approach techniques, more efficient flying procedures). We have always said that the environmental issue is a global issue that concerns all regions of the world. Therefore we believe that it deserves a global solution and this is exactly what ICAO can offer through a global market-based measure. We fully support this ICAO initiative as we strongly believe it is the way forward. We also insist that other parties involved in the industry must also play their part. For example, it is clear that infrastructure providers (air traffic control, airports) can do much more. Last but not least we believe that authorities must actively support the development of greener technology.
AEA proposed the Single European Sky in 1989. How do you assess the evolution of this initiative and its main challenges for the future?
AEA ‘invented’ the Single European Sky idea back in 1989, when our airlines concluded that the set-up and organisation of the air traffic control system in Europe was inadequate. The current system was set up in the 1950s and 1960s and has not been adapted to take into account the technological (r)evolution in the industry and its phenomenal growth, meaning that airlines still face the same issues as at the outset. This is mainly due to objections from Member States and lobbying campaigns by the powerful Air Traffic Controller unions in Europe. In the meantime, air traffic in the European airspace continues to increase; Eurocontrol forecasts that it will reach full capacity in the not so distant future. It will be impossible to accommodate this growth if nothing changes… We have calculated that the current inefficiency costs the airlines a staggering 5 billion euro/year, a high price which is ultimately passed on to consumers. And let us not forget that a Single European Sky has only winners: airlines (which will be able to operate more efficiently), consumers (more than 300.000 hours of delays eliminated) and the environment (over 8 million tonnes less CO2 generated).
The SES is far too important a pan-European project, with too widespread benefits, for it to be allowed to fail. The new Commission should continue to push for the establishment of an SES, building on the SES II+ proposal. AEA will continue to advocate that the SES is a catalyst for jobs and growth which is crucial for Europe as it struggles to revive its economy and to support its role in the highly competitive context of global aviation.
Which projects is AEA currently working on?
We are dealing with a large variety of topics. Many are related to the Aviation Policy but let’s not forget that we are also involved in safety and especially security (airport security in the aftermath of the Brussels Airport attacks, cargo security, Passenger Name Records, etc.) and in external relations (discussions on bilateral air traffic rights agreements between the EU and non- EU countries on the periphery of Europe, as well as in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas). Environmental issues, air cargo, and the technical & operational aspects of aviation are also high on our agenda.
As 2016 is such a crucial year for the new Aviation Strategy we are investing a lot of energy and effort in that. We hope that by the end of the year the Commission will be able to present an ambitious policy that addresses the needs of the airlines and creates a fertile soil in which European airlines can grow and thrive.