Published on December 10th, 2015 | by Jim Lee


European Commission outlines a new Aviation Strategy for Europe

On 7th December, the European Commission outlined its a new Aviation Strategy for Europe, which was adopted as a milestone initiative to boost Europe’s economy, strengthen its industrial base and contribute to the EU global leadership position. There are three core priorities of President Jean-Claude Juncker, on which the Strategy will deliver, ensuring that the European aviation sector remains competitive, and reaps the benefits of a fast-changing and developing global economy. A strong and outward-looking aviation sector will not only benefit businesses, but also European citizens, by offering more connections to the rest of the world, at lower prices. The strategy is now designated as being at the ‘proposal phase’ and the full document can be found here.

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration

In a statement Vice-President for the Energy-Union Maroš Šefčovič said, “Competitive and efficient aviation is central to Europe’s growth. This new Aviation Strategy creates a framework that will enable European aviation to maintain its global leadership. It also confirms the pioneering commitment of Europe to sustainable aviation, a highly topical issue as the world has its eyes on Paris for the COP21”.

COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, is the annual Conference of Parties (COP), to review the UN’s Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995 and significant meetings since then have included COP3, where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 where the Montreal Action Plan was produced, COP15 in Copenhagen where an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol was unfortunately not realised, and COP17 in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.

EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc

EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc

EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc added, “European aviation is facing a number of challenges and the Strategy sets out a comprehensive and ambitious action-plan to keep the sector ahead of the curve. It will keep European companies competitive, through new investment and business opportunities, allowing them to grow in a sustainable manner. European citizens will also benefit from more choice, cheaper prices and the highest levels of safety and security.”

The Commission’s goal is to shape a comprehensive strategy for the whole EU aviation ecosystem. In this context, the priorities are to:

  • Place the EU as a leading player in international aviation, whilst guaranteeing a level playing field. The EU aviation sector must be allowed to tap into the new growth markets. This can be achieved through new external aviation agreements with key countries and regions in the world. This will not only improve market access, but also provide new business opportunities for European companies and ensure fair and transparent market conditions based on a clear regulatory framework. These agreements will also provide more connections and better prices for passengers. Global connectivity is a driver of trade and tourism, and directly contributes to economic growth and job creation. This ambitious external aviation policy will be achieved by the EU with the following measures:-
  • Negotiating new EU-level agreements with several countries and regions in the world to improve market access.
  • Providing more connections and better prices for passengers.
  • Exploring new measures to address unfair commercial practices from third countries.
  • Creating investment opportunities with third countries based on mutual liberalisation of ownership and control rules.
  • Tackle limits to growth in the air and on the ground. The main challenge for the growth of EU aviation is to address the capacity, efficiency and connectivity constraints. The fragmentation of the European airspace costs at least €5 billion a year and up to 50 million tonnes of CO². Capacity constraints at EU airports could cost up to 818,000 jobs by 2035. Now is therefore the time for the EU to plan for future air travel demand and avoid congestion. To tackle limits to growth in the air and on the ground, the Strategy proposes:-
  • Completing the Single European Sky (SES) initiative.
  • Boosting the efficiency of airport services, airport charges and ground handling.
  • Optimising the use of our busiest airports by tackling the capacity crunch with adequate slots rules and infrastructure.
  • Monitor intra-EU and extra-EU connectivity to identify shortcomings and improve connectivity by developing a new annual index.
  • Maintain high EU standards. In the interest of European citizens and businesses, it is crucial to maintain high EU standards for safety, security, the environment, social issues and passenger rights. The Strategy proposes important measures in this area:-
  • It will update the EU’s safety rules while maintaining high safety standards alongside growing air traffic with the revision of basic air safety rules.
  • The Commission will also seek ways to reduce the burden of security checks and costs, through the use of new technology and a risk-based approach, and by pursuing One Stop Security approach, with key trading partners.
  • Contributing to a resilient Energy Union and Climate Change policy and pursue a robust global measure to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020.
  • Creating high quality jobs and maintaining a strong social agenda in particular in relation to employment conditions in aviation.
  • Revising air passenger rights rules.
  • Make progress on innovation, digital technologies and investments. A catalyst for the development of aviation, and its function as an enabler of growth, will be innovation and digitalisation. Europe must in particular unleash the full potential of drones. That is why the Strategy proposes a legal framework to ensure safety and legal certainty for industry and addresses concerns related to privacy and data protection, security and the environment. EU-wide rules to ensure safe drone operations for all airspace users, will protect citizens’ privacy, and offer legal certainty.

EU aviation-strategy - challenges of air transportIn addition, appropriate investments into technology and innovation will secure Europe’s leading role in international aviation. The European Union has planned to invest €430 million each year, until 2020, in the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) project, making the EU Single Sky more efficient. The timely deployment of SESAR solutions can potentially result in the creation of over 300 000 new jobs. The deployment and optimisation of information and communications technologies are also particularly relevant for airport capacity, performance and quality of service.

The Commission has produced a short video on its strategy which can be viewed here.


The Aviation Strategy is one of the initiatives listed in the Commission Work Programme for 2015. It consists of a Communication, a proposal for a revision of the EU’s aviation safety rules (Regulation 216/2008) and requests to negotiate Comprehensive EU-level air transport agreements with a number of key third countries.

Aviation is a strong driver of economic growth, jobs, trade and mobility for the European Union and plays a crucial role in the EU economy. The sector employs almost 2 million people in the EU and is worth €110 billion to Europe’s economy. Over the last 20 years, the EU’s liberalisation of the internal market for air services and the substantial growth of demand in air transport within the EU and worldwide, have resulted in the significant development of the European aviation sector. The aviation traffic in Europe is predicted to reach 14.4 million flights in 2035, 50% more than in 2012.

European Cockpit Association says aviation deserves ambition

In a statement the European Cockpit Association (ECA) said that he EU Commission’s long-awaited ‘Aviation Package’, sends a positive signal by stressing that aviation is, a “key enabler” of economic growth, job generation, and connectivity. “Together with the proposed new regulatory framework for Drones and the revision of EASA’s Basic Regulation, this is an important step forward” its statement notes. “However, the ‘strategy’ itself remains short of ambition and lacks concrete measures on the ‘Social Dimension’ of air transport. Some proposals in the new EASA Regulation may even encourage social dumping and entail a lowering of social standards in aviation” it adds.

ECA President Dirk Polloczek went on, “The Commission brings forward crucial proposals and clearly acknowledges the strategic value of aviation in Europe. This is good! But on a number of issues, we need to go further than describing what we already know. In particular, after years of consultations, it is time to make the – so far disregarded – Social Dimension an integral part of aviation policy. The Aviation Package clearly fails to do that and is highly disappointing in that respect.”

Last June, at the Conference ‘A Social Agenda for Transport’, stakeholders sent a strong message to the Commission that concrete action is required on ‘atypical employment forms’, social dumping and ‘flags of convenience’. “Given the limited take-up of these issues in the strategy, strengthening the social pillar will remain among ECA’s top priorities in 2016,” he added.

Launching the revision of EASA’s Basic Regulation is a key step, as better safety management is indispensable to prevent accidents in a rapidly growing market.

“The proposed ‘pooling’ of national safety oversight capacities is very welcomed and the mechanisms to deal with weak or ‘failing’ national oversight authorities are an absolute must,” said Philip von Schöppenthau, ECA Secretary General. “However, the proposal to create a European ‘EASA AOC’ is premature and cannot be considered before all legal and social repercussions have been addressed”. Also highly problematic is the proposal to do away with the system whereby the Member States approve intra-European wet-leasing in their country. Such a move would reduce their ability to effectively oversee the safety of these operations. “The same ‘red card’ is due for the ill-considered proposal to allow foreign pilots to fly EU-registered aircraft without fully complying with EASA FCL requirements. This can have serious safety repercussions and would open the door for social dumping,” the ECA Secretary General added.

Drones represent a sector with a significant growth potential. However, unless integrated into the European airspace in a safe manner, they can carry hazards both to manned aviation and the people on the ground. “If the EU wants to stimulate this growth potential, their underestimated risk of low-level operations, as well as issues like registration of drones or auto-avoidance systems must be considered,” Dirk Polloczek said.

“On all these issues we are ready and keen to actively contribute to the upcoming co-decision procedure and to further work with the Commission to find solutions that are both safe and socially responsible,” he concluded.

European airspace user associations also welcome new strategy

The European airspace user associations, AEA (Association of European Airlines), EBAA (European Business Aviation Association), EEA (European Express Association), ELFAA (European Low Fares Airline Association), ERA (European Regions Airline Association) and IACA (International Air Carrier Association), also welcome the European Commission’s initiative to develop and implement an ‘Aviation Strategy for Europe’. The associations had contributed to this exercise by responding to the public consultation, drafting position papers and holding face-to- face meetings with EU regulators, in the expectation that the strategy would address the challenges that the EU’s aviation sector is currently facing.

In a statement, it notes that the strategy is the result of a year’s work by the Commission. It too believes that, the strategy lacks ambition and does not propose adequate measures to bolster the competitiveness of air operators – a vital sector in Europe.

In a joint reaction to the strategy, the associations welcomed the deserved focus on the indispensable contribution of aviation to Europe’s economy and mobility, but stress that there is an urgent need for the Commission to now propose more specific and far- reaching remedies. “While the strategy review correctly identifies some of the significant challenges that Europe’s aviation sector is currently facing in terms of the cost and provision of infrastructure (both on the ground and in the air), the integrity of the market, inefficiencies in the value chain and a burdensome regulatory framework (e.g. national and local aviation taxes, the intra-EU ETS), it stops short of proposing concrete measures to address these.”

The associations will further engage with the Commission and the European decision makers to request immediate actions. The European air operators’ associations AEA, EBAA, EEA, ELFAA, ERA and IACA unanimously conclude that “addressing these issues is of crucial importance in order to ensure that aviation becomes a priority sector in Europe. The associations and their members stand ready to assist with the urgently required follow-up work.”

ACI Europe’s airports also welcome the new aviation strategy

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe in a statement said “The Commission has gotten it right – taking stock of the increasing strategic relevance of air connectivity for our economy. What it has put on the table today is a commendably pragmatic approach – one that recognises aviation growth as a key enabler of the EU’s wider growth and jobs agenda.”

On consumers and open skies it notes; “With this new aviation strategy, the Commission is also moving towards a less airline-centric and more consumer-centric aviation policy. In this regard, ACI Europe fully supports the ambitious plan to negotiate aviation agreements with the EU’s main trading partners to secure additional market access opportunities under conditions ensuring fair competition”

Mr Jankovec added; “We need more open skies agreements beyond Europe. This is essential for airports to attract more air services, develop their route network and improve the connectivity of the communities they serve. Ultimately, this is also about avoiding the marginalisation of Europe and supporting its global hub positioning. Closing markets and resisting change has never been a successful business strategy – and it rarely does any good for consumers.”

While Europe’s airports support the on-going efforts of the Commission to tackle congestion and capacity constraints, both in the air and on the ground, ACI Europe noted that decisive action on these issues rests with Member States. In this regard, Europe’s airports share the frustrations of their airline partners over the lack of progress in the implementation of the Single European Sky. They are also deeply concerned by the lack of proper long-term national strategies to address the looming airport capacity crunch. While Europe’s airports are still waiting for the adoption by the Council of Transport Ministers of a revised Slot Regulation, this can only be a short-term fix – as it is about managing congestion, not addressing it.

This has led to ACI Europe calling on the Commission to develop a more ambitious EU strategy on airport capacity – including the adoption of airport capacity targets for Europe aligned with the Single European Sky.

ACI Europe also notes that the Commission has resisted calls by some airlines for even tighter regulation of airport charges. The Commission will rather focus on the implementation of the current EU Directive on airport charges and will assess at a later stage whether a review is needed. ACI Europe says it stands ready to assist the Commission in this task. Changing market conditions, in particular increasing airport competition, may require a lighter and more tailored regulatory approach.

Mr Jankovec noted “The EU Directive on airport charges is essentially based on the unquestioned premise that airports are monopolies. That is no longer the case. The Commission has already acknowledged that airports compete in the State aid guidelines it adopted last year – which actually restrict the public financing of airports because of effective and growing competition among them. It will have to acknowledge the same for airport charges. This is about coherent policy alignment.”

Finally, ACI Europe also stresses the need for keeping regulatory driven costs in check – especially as regards safety and security. This is an essential part of improving European aviation’s competitive position. Accordingly, Europe’s airports support the move of EASA towards a performance-based approach to aviation safety, as well as increased efficiency through better integration between the agency and Member States. But ACI Europe reaffirms its opposition for now, to EASA’s extension of competences, in the fields of security and the environment.

The Commission needs to push for real progress towards a truly risk-based system across the board, Mr. Jankovec said. He added “We need to move from systematic and undifferentiated security checks at airports towards more targeted security checks that focus our resources where the risk is. This means not relying only on technology – which will take time to develop – but increasingly on effective sharing of intelligence and data. This is the only way to deliver both security and cost efficiencies. We urge the Commission to look at how we could introduce in Europe a pre-check system similar to the one successfully deployed by the US TSA at more than 150 airports.”

IAA to introduce new regulations for the safe operation of drones “very shortly”

Speaking in the Dáil recently, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe said that the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), which has statutory responsibility under the Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993, for the regulation of aviation safety standards for civil aviation in Ireland, had published its policy for regulation of the safe use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), or as they are more commonly known, drones in Ireland in April 2012. There is already in place a regulatory process for licensing and training by the IAA in the area of RPAS. He confirmed that he had “been informed by the IAA of its intention to introduce new regulations for the safe operation of drones very shortly”.

“It is accepted both internationally and at an EU level that the deployment of RPAS pose new challenges, including those related to public safety, and that the increase in the use of RPAS by hobbyists and enthusiasts requires consideration of regulatory controls in this arena. Such wider public policy issues are in the process of being addressed both at an International and EU level. My Department is committed under the National Aviation Policy 2015 to continue to contribute to the EU rule making and regulatory process concerning RPAS” he added.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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