Above our heads, an invisible aviation network exists. Managed by a multitude of air traffic controllers, it allows thousands of aircraft to arrive, depart and pass over Europe on a daily basis. The European Commission’s Single European Sky initiative (SES) aims to streamline this management, improving efficiency and delivering environmental benefits, but it remains incomplete. It is essential that SES recognises the position of airports within this network, and the role that airports will play in helping deliver the benefits of SES. ACI EUROPE and its members are heavily involved with SESAR – the technical arm of SES – in a range of research projects designed to transform airports’ relationships with air traffic control.
Airport security represents the number one operating cost within the airport industry, and new security requirements can emerge with little warning due to evolving or changing threats to civil aviation. ACI EUROPE works closely with regulators to determine the most appropriate measures to mitigate any new threats, but inevitably this can introduce additional complexity for both passengers and security staff alike. The travelling public expects a secure environment, and to experience a smooth and efficient process that delivers this security. ACI EUROPE promotes a regulatory approach that focuses on a harmonisation of rules, an integration of more advanced technologies, sustainable funding, a better passenger experience, and a structured approach to unforeseen new security requirements.
While border control is the responsibility of the Member States, these activities have a major impact on airport operations and on the passenger experience. Hence, coordination with Airport Managing Bodies is paramount in order to ensure an efficient, and uniform level of control at the external borders while guaranteeing a smooth passenger flow.
With the UK’s departure from membership of the EU on 31 January 2020, aviation has been recognised as one of the sectors affected by Brexit. The potential disruption of Brexit for air travel has made it clear that air transport needs to be at the forefront of the negotiations of the new UK-EU27 relationship. Since the Brexit vote, ACI EUROPE has closely engaged with the European Commission’s Task Force for Relations with the UK and the UK government to call for aviation to be prioritised. ACI EUROPE has underlined the impact of Brexit on European air transport, connectivity and the wider economy. It has also repeatedly stressed the need to keep the most liberal aviation regime between the UK and the EU to safeguard air connectivity, thus preserving the interests of consumers, airport communities and aviation stakeholders.
Airport capacity is one of the most pressing issues facing European mobility today. As competing global hubs in the Middle East and other emerging economies power ahead with their own infrastructure roll-outs, European air traffic is set to be heavily congested in the coming decades. EUROCONTROL estimates that by 2040 up to 1.5 million flights will not be accommodated, meaning 160 million passengers unable to fly. Yet expansion of airport capacity in Europe faces a range of obstacles, from economic regulation and planning rules to political intervention and financing challenges. There is a need to both invest in new airport capacity and to make the best use of existing capacity. This should be achieved through integrated operations and collaborative decision-making, as well as through the airport slot allocation system. Airports need to see their capacity enhanced and allocated so as to develop air connectivity to the socio-economic benefit of the regions they serve, while limiting environmental impacts.
European airports have undergone a major business transformation over the years– from infrastructure providers to businesses in their own right, competing for business and traffic in a liberalised European market. Today, 80% of European airport operators are corporatised businesses – with growing participation from the private sector. The maturity of the aviation market means that airports should be allowed to set landing charges and passenger services charges at an efficient level. This means reflecting the full cost of providing aeronautical services at the airport, allowing for pricing flexibility that maximises overall societal outcomes. The challenges of financing long-term and sustainable airport infrastructure projects have increased substantially, but public funding has become more limited due to increased budgetary constraints at national and EU levels. European airports are one of the most important economic actors in the region they serve and play a central role in providing connectivity within the EU and worldwide. European airports strive to provide this connectivity in a way that facilitates long-term sustainable and inclusive growth.
International air transport is heavily regulated. All traffic rights (right to land and take off, to transport passengers and cargo) are defined in international agreements signed at governmental level (EU or national). The evolution of air transport in the last decades with regard to ownership and control of airlines (with the notion of Community carrier) and airports (which are considered in Europe as economic enterprises) has led to the need for airports to make their voice heard regarding international aviation agreements. The time when the State general interest was fully aligned with the interests of national carriers and airports they owned is over, and Air Transport Agreements should reflect the strategic relevance of aviation and the connectivity it affords to the economy. They should be based on the full spectrum of interests involved, in particular consumers, regions and local communities as well as businesses that depend on aviation and job creation. Air transport – as with any mode of transport – is just a tool not a goal in itself.
Groundhandling services (such as passenger check-in, baggage handling, towing, de-icing and fueling) are essential for airport operations. The Groundhandling Directive (96/67/EC) has opened the market for independent third parties to provide these services at larger European airports. The opening of the market has resulted in competition between groundhandling companies and lower costs for airlines. But Europe’s congested airports increasingly face operational and safety problems from groundhandling activities that are not sufficiently integrated in the airport operations. Airport operators need to be empowered to coordinate aeronautical activities within their airports. The benefits of competition must therefore be balanced with adequate quality, safety and social standards.
Safety remains a primary concern for all airports, and significant resources are devoted to meeting stringent and detailed safety requirements. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is responsible for a wide range of aerodrome regulations, and ACI EUROPE is working closely with the body and other industry stakeholders to ensure that future European rules are efficient, effective, proportionate, and consistent with wider International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulations.
Passenger experience is at the core of the airport business and is an essential element of passenger facilitation. Airports know that passenger satisfaction is closely linked to a better business performance. So, they are investing in diversifying their services as much as possible to enhance every aspect of the passenger experience from the moment passengers book their flight to the moment they step on board the aircraft. In addition to respecting European and national regulations, airports have to address specific operational and technical passenger facilitation issues, such as wayfinding, baggage sorting equipment, intermodality solutions and more. All of these are factors which contribute to the quality of passenger journeys.
Europe’s regional airports play an essential role in the creation and growth of economic hubs outside capital cities. Their role in business and leisure mobility is crucial, with 90% of the aviation network made up of regional airports. These airports provide accessibility to the most remote areas of Europe. They also enhance social cohesion and boost economic competitiveness, allowing for an incredible mobility of Europe’s businesses and citizens.
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