By Nicola Clark,
The European Commission announced new limits Thursday on the amount of financial aid that member states can provide to money-losing regional airports, a move that could eventually lead to higher fares for passengers traveling to some out-of-the way terminals served by low-cost carriers.
Under the new rules, which are expected to take effect next month, airports serving more than 5 million passengers a year will be barred from receiving any state support unless there is evidence of a “clear market failure.” And aid for most smaller airports, with fewer than 3 million passengers, will have to be phased out by 2024.
In a statement, Joaquín Almunia, the Union’s competition commissioner, called the new restrictions “a key ingredient for a successful and competitive European aviation sector,” which he said would “ensure the mobility of our citizens while preserving a level playing field between airports and airlines.”
The overhaul follows more than a decade of breakneck expansion in European air traffic, led by budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. Small airports have grown especially rapidly. Between 2004 and 2012, airports serving fewer than 5 million passengers have seen traffic jump by 79 percent; traffic at those serving more than 5 million has risen by just 29 percent over the period, according to Transport and Environment, a lobbying group based in Brussels.
The Commission, the executive arm of the 28-member Union, said on Thursday that it was still reviewing more than two dozen cases of past subsidies granted to airports and to airlines, including the Dublin-based low-cost carrier Ryanair. The Commission said it would judge those cases — which involve regional airports in Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Romania and Spain — based on their compliance with the new aid guidelines.
Legacy carriers like Air France-KLM and Lufthansa have long complained that public support for small airports puts them at a competitive disadvantage and serves as an indirect subsidy to low-cost rivals..
The availability of subsidies has also led to a decade-long boom in new, taxpayer-funded airport construction that has often pitted municipalities against one another in hopes of luring air travelers and new jobs.
But many of those airports have yet to turn a profit and are dependent on taxpayer support, which violates European competition rules. Some also are significantly underutilized by airlines, draining public coffers for their upkeep and failing to deliver much economic benefit.
Under the new rules, member states will continue to be allowed to cover the operating losses of small airports and to finance 25 percent to 75 percent of investments in new infrastructure for a maximum 10 years, beginning in 2014. Airports will need to present a business plan to qualify for aid and will be expected to increase the fees they charge to airlines, potentially leading to higher ticket prices.
The Commission set looser restrictions for Europe’s smallest airports, however, allowing those that serve fewer than 700,000 passengers per year to receive subsidies of up to 80 percent of operating losses. Member states will be required to review such support after five years, but they will not be required to phase it out entirely.
Airport groups applauded what they saw as a measured approach by the Commission that recognized the role that air connectivity plays in economic development. But they also expressed concern that the restrictions could hamper future investment in airport infrastructure as demand for air travel rises across the region.
“In order for Europe to stay globally relevant, we should be able to address airport investment as flexibly as our peers in other world regions,” ACI Europe, a trade group representing 450 of the region’s airports, said in a statement.
Environmental groups expressed frustration that the Commission did not take a tougher stance against the air transport sector. They said the industry already receives generous breaks on fuel and value-added taxes while being responsible for about 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The new guidelines “open the floodgates to increased operating aid for airports,” for at least the next decade, Bill Hemmings of the Transport and Environment lobbying group said in a statement. “Why must everybody pay so that the better off can fly more often and for cheaper?”
Sourced by New York Times
By Tom Newcombe
The European Parliament has backed proposals from the European Commission to strengthen air passenger rights.
MEPs passed the bill to give travellers better rights to information, care and re-routing, when they are stranded at an airport.
The bill, which would apply across the 28 countries in the European Union, would also require airlines to have staff to inform passengers about their rights, as well as laying out procedures for complaints and reimbursements.
The changes are largely in response to problems exposed during the ash cloud crisis in 2010.
Under current rules, airlines do not have to pay compensation for flight delays or cancellations caused by “extraordinary circumstances”.
The proposal from the European Commission would cap the compensation amount to the original cost of the ticket.
The Commission claims that currently only 2% of airline passengers entitled to compensation actually receive it.
“Air passenger rights concern practically every citizen of the European Union,” said Georges Bach, the lawmaker responsible for steering the legislation through parliament.
“It’s a David versus Goliath story and I believe the text we have voted today strikes a reasonable balance between the airlines and the passenger rights.
“We improved consumer protection on the one hand while recognising the flexibility that this industry requires on the other.”
Among the measures proposed by the European Commission are:
- Misspelling: Passengers to have the right to correct a spelling mistake in a name “free of charge”.
- Complaint handling: Passengers to be given the right to a response to their complaint within two months and an acknowledgement of a complaint within a week (there is currently no time limit).
- Right to care: Parliament supports the Commission’s proposal to introduce a right to care for passengers after a delay of two hours, for all flights irrespective of distance.
- Connecting flights: Parliament backs the Commissions’ proposal to clarify that rights to assistance and compensation apply, if you miss your connecting flight because the previous flight was late.
- Luggage: A proposal to give national authorities enforcement powers over lost luggage rules.
European Commission’s vice president Siim Kallas said it’s important air passenger rights don’t just exist on paper.
“We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters most – when things go wrong,” said Kallas.
“We know that the real priority for stranded passengers is just to get home. So our focus is on information, care and effective rerouting.
“The aim is to get passengers where they want to be as quickly as possible while giving the airlines the time they need to sort problems out.”
The Council of Transport Ministers and the European Parliament will negotiate a final agreement on the air passenger rights legislation in May 2014.
Sourced from buyingbusinesstravel
The Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament (TRAN) today voted in favour of a reasonable compromise on the aviation Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
The Association of European Airlines (AEA) has wasted little time in praising the decision and is now urging the European Parliament to listen to their transport colleagues.
In autumn last year, ICAO agreed on a roadmap to develop a global market-based measure to reduce carbon emissions from international aviation, for adoption at the next ICAO Assembly in 2016.
This agreement had been facilitated by the EU’s decision to exclude international flights from ETS in 2012 (‘Stop the clock’).
Following the agreement in ICAO, the European Commission presented a proposal that reduces the original scope of the ETS to cover all flights within European airspace, despite the fact that such a concept was rejected at the ICAO assembly last year.
Currently, the three Committees in the European Parliament are discussing the Commission’s proposal.
According to AEA, the decision taken by the transport specialists demonstrates their understanding of the fact that European airlines could be exposed to retaliatory measures from third countries in their day-to-day operations and business development.
At the same time, AEA claims that TRAN members showed their support for the approach taken at ICAO level.
“The aviation ETS must not hamper the progress at ICAO towards a global agreement on reducing emissions from international aviation”, says AEA CEO, Athar Husain Khan.
AEA welcomes that TRAN restricts the scope of aviation ETS to flights within the European Economic Area.
This move, it claims, would reduce the risk of international controversy and confirms that global issues such as emissions from international aviation need a global solution.
However, uncertainty remains about the situation in the years 2017 up to 2020.
Sourced by Routes-News
Press Release by Nats
NATS air traffic controllers will be working as normal on 29 and 30 January, despite industrial action being planned for across Europe.
Controllers and support staff at the two NATS centres at Swanwick, Hampshire and Prestwick, Ayrshire, as well as at NATS-operated control towers across the UK, will be providing a full service to airlines and passengers.
NATS Chief Executive, Richard Deakin, said: “NATS controllers will be working as usual in spite of the threat of industrial action in Europe. If the strikes go ahead we will work closely, as ever, with Eurocontrol and other European air navigation services to help keep people moving whenever possible.”
“We will also work with our airline and airport customers to help them manage their operations should any changes be necessary.
“Any passengers who are worried they might be affected should check with their airlines for the latest information.”
The industrial action is being staged by two organisations in protest against the European Commission’s Single European Sky initiative, which aims to consolidate air traffic services across the continent.
The Air Traffic Controllers European Unions Coordination (ATCEUC) – an umbrella group that represents 14,000 members across 28 countries – is calling a strike for 29 January, before members of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) then walk out on 30 January.
ATCEUC previously called for a ‘Day of Action’ in October last year before cancelling it following assurances of further negotiation.
The European Commission says the Single European Sky programme will triple the region’s airspace capacity, cut costs and reduce delays.
European air traffic controllers are set to go on strike next week over planned safety and savings targets set by the European Commission.
The Air Traffic Controllers European Unions Coordination (ATCEUC) represents around 14,000 flight overseers across 28 European countries.
The strike is due to take place on January 29 and could lead to considerable flight disruption.
“We plan an hour-long strike in support of the action,” Matthias Maas, the head of Germany’s GDF union told Reuters.
Sourced by TTG Digital
The Association of Atol Companies has warned of its concerns over moves that could see firms opt under which European jurisdiction they offer financial protection.
The concerns come after a survey of its members found 80% were opposed to the change that could come in under reform of Europe’s rules on package travel.
Under a European Commission proposal the rules that govern the selling of packages will be standardised across Europe to allow greater freedom of trade.
This raises the prospect of firms based overseas trading in the UK under the rules in place in their country of origin.
The Low Cost Holiday Group has already taken advantage of this having moved its operations to Majorca in November so that it now operates under Spanish package rules.
This prompted the CAA to express serious concerns over the move and to later clarify that anyone bookings taken after November 1 would not enjoy Atol cover.
Today the AAC described the prospect that tour operators and suppliers could choose the venue of financial protection under a new Package Travel Directive as a “total nightmare”.
It said this could see consumers faced with a myriad of unfamiliar schemes from the 28 existing members of the EU.
Lindsay Ingram, Chairman of the AAC, said: “We have worked hard to ensure better consumer protection.
“Our members issue Atol Certificates in all appropriate cases, a simple and clear explanation of what is, and is not, protected.
“The UK Atol system provides protection in cases where EU law is far from clear and consumers may find themselves unprotected when buying similar products from non Atol holding businesses, either based here or abroad.”
Alan Bowen, legal adviser to the AAC, added: “Major changes to the Atol scheme in 2012 extended financial protection to customers who chose to buy flights and accommodation or car hire as separate items.
“No other country extends protection beyond traditional package holidays as defined more than 20 years ago and UK consumers need to be aware that without an Atol protected purchase, customers may be on their own.
“The sheer issue of dealing with language problems if protection is based overseas may be insurmountable and cause greater stress in the event of a business failure.
“We strongly urge customers to check the protection that may exist before booking. Finding out afterwards that your purchase is not Atol protected is too late.”
Sourced from Travel Weekly
Carriers say the rules lead to higher fares and have broadly welcomed transport commission proposals to qualify the compensation requirements.
However, Noura Rouissi, advisor on passenger rights to the European transport commission, told the Iata World Passenger Symposium in Dublin: “The proposal is being discussed by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers and already 500-600 amendments are proposed. It shows how difficult this is.”
Rouissi highlighted proposals broadly welcomed by airlines. The revised regulation would include a new definition of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ in which airlines could cancel flights without paying compensation.
The commission also proposes limiting airlines’ liability towards passengers in the event of serious delay to three days.
Rouissi said: “We learned from the volcanic ash. Under the current regulation there is no limit to airlines’ liability.”
The Commission also proposes extending the period before a passenger becomes entitled to compensation for a delay. This currently kicks in at three hours following the European Court of Justice ruling.
Rouissi said: “We propose to increase it to five, nine or 12 hours according to the length of flight.” She said: “We want to clarify this and not leave it to the court to interpret.”
Ireland’s permanent representative to the EU, Michael Harper, told the symposium: “We need to avoid the creation of perverse incentives where airlines cancel flights to avoid delays.”
Ryanair has repeatedly slammed the EC regulations for not linking compensation rules to the cost of fares, and Harper said: “There is a case for looking more closely at compensation related to ticket prices.”
Lufthansa director of EU affairs Regula Dettling-Ott said: “We see more and more small claims [for compensation] and more and more companies pursuing claims. It is a business model for certain law firms.”
Sourced from Travel Weekly
Proposed new rules on pilots’ working hours could lead to air crews flying while “dangerously fatigued”, union officials have warned ahead of a key vote by MEPs.
On Monday afternoon, members of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee will vote on proposals to establish common flight and duty-time limitations across Europe. Their decision is the most significant stage in the process towards the new rules becoming law, but they would have to be approved by the European Commission and could be subject to legal challenges.
Besides the actual length of a flight, the regulations take into account the amount and quality of rest since the previous duty and the “circadian component” or jet lag.
British pilots could face longer turns of duty, with fewer flight crew on some long-haul flights. For example, BA and Virgin currently roster three pilots to fly from Heathrow to Los Angeles. Under the new rules, there could be just two. The European Cockpit Association, which represents 38,000 pilots, said some of the proposals constituted “an outright risk to flight safety”. Its president, Nico Voorbach, said: “The new rules will only worsen the situation of air crews flying while dangerously fatigued.”
The association claimed pilots could be rostered for eight hours on standby then work on a 14-hour flight, meaning they would be landing after 22 hours on duty. It is claimed this level of tiredness equates to being four times over the blood-alcohol limit for flying.
Mr Voorbach added: “Air crews will be asked to fly over 12 hours throughout the night, whilst scientists warn that safety risks increase significantly after 10 hours at night.”
Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said: “A European regulator that lacks scientific and medical expertise is being allowed to tear up UK flight safety rules.”
But the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), which includes BMI Regional and Cityjet, accused the unions of using “misinformation” in a bid to scupper the proposals.
Simon McNamara, ERA’s director general, said: “Social and political considerations, which are being led by flight and cabin unions, and not safety issues, are aimed at persuading MEPs to vote against the motion.”
The Association of European Airlines (AEA), which includes British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, insisted the new rules would benefit customers, and were essential for an “environmentally sustainable, safe and cost- efficient aviation market”. AEA’s Athar Husain Khan said the new rules would ensure Europe would continue to have one of the strictest rules in the world, “even stricter than today”.
Sourced by The Independent
The EU ran into strong opposition from countries including the US, Brazil, China, India and Russia after last year bringing foreign as well as European airlines within its carbon emissions trading scheme.
A provisional deal at the governing council of the United Nations’ aviation body on Wednesday was seen as a diplomatic breakthrough after more than year of tensions between the EU and critics of the scheme.
China has suspended billions of dollars’ of purchases of Airbus aircraft from Europe over the row and airlines have warned of chaos caused by other possible retaliatory measures, such as restrictions on foreign airspace.
But the airline industry sounded an upbeat note after the draft deal, while experts warned key details must still be hashed out at a full assembly of Montreal-based ICAO later this month.
Under the draft compromise, international flights would be covered to the extent they use European airspace.
For a flight from London to New York an airline would have to declare its emissions inside European airspace. Once the aircraft left EU airspace to cross the Atlantic, its emissions would no longer be counted.
An IATA spokesman told Reuters: “We are optimistic that the Assembly will make progress, provided they keep focused on achieving an agreement on a global scheme.”
The new compromise would require countries to make a decision on finding a “market-based mechanism” for reducing airline emissions by 2016.
But environmental groups are likely to oppose the agreement, which falls short of the EU’s original objectives.
Sourced from Travel Weekly