ACI Europe warns of tough challenges ahead for airports
Speaking at ACI Europe’s Annual Congress and General Assembly in Geneva today, president, Jost Lammers, took to the stage with a hard-hitting analysis of the consequences of uncoordinated global travel restrictions, of imbalances in fiscal aid, and the threat to climate action without regulatory support.
Addressing the airport community, industry partners and institutional stakeholders present in Geneva, Lammers called for global alignment and risk-based approaches in restoring movement as the restart limps forwards.
He was adamant that more international guidance was needed to bring into line the “incredible patchwork” of travel regimes. Underpinning this should be the principles of unrestricted travel for the vaccinated, and an acceptance of testing protocols for those who are not.
Ultimately, ACI Europe believes that a fully digitised global standard for health status verification will be the imperative if airports are to handle gradually increasing passenger traffic.
And here, Lammers was quick to praise the European model, claiming that the EU Digital Covid Certificate presents a ready-made proven solution – one which each European can be proud of, and a template for the digitally interoperable health status credentials which are set to be a lasting feature of air travel.
With the focus on Europe, Lammers stressed the imperative for seamlessly aligning travel regimes both within the European Union borders and beyond, as he pointed to an emerging European Health Union.
And, in a blunt short-term message for those governments still imposing any restrictions upon the vaccinated, Lammers had particular criticism for the UK’s actions as ignoring risk-based evidence and “defying logic”. This, he said, hurts not just UK aviation, but the UK economy as a whole.
State aid rules, airport charges and airport slots in the spotlight
Turning to the ability of Europe’s airports to recover, Lammers described a bleak landscape of systemic financial weakness across the industry as airports kept operating for months with nearly no revenues and without the “financial largesse” extended to several major airlines.
Airports were also deliberately left out of the €750 billion EU Recovery plan and had no option other than to borrow their way into massive debt. Now faced with a cost-intensive and revenue-weak recovery, their ability to invest in sustainability, digitalisation and capacity has clearly been jeopardised.
With costs already trimmed down, the absence of further financial support from governments and of more flexible State aid rules, he said that the solution for many airports can only rest in increasing user charges.
Ultimately, as both critical infrastructure and businesses in their own right, airports must remain viable.
Facing forwards – Destination 2050 and a sustainable aviation future
Despite the well-known tensions over airport charges and slot usage, Lammers was also quick to stress that airline and airport relationships are strong. One area of aviation collaboration which is already reaping results – the collective commitment to decarbonise and align with the Paris Agreement.
Since his last annual address, the European aviation sector has successfully delivered together an ambitious joint roadmap to get to Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
But again, there are shortfalls in the partnership needed from the EU and Member States, with mixed signals from both.
The proposed mandates on sustainable aviation fuels and the targets for electricity supply set out in Fit for 55 are solid moves forwards, he said, yet they will require significant financial support and effective incentives to de-risk investments.
Also under fire was the debate around the restriction on domestic flights – the very testbed for electrically powered aircraft.
Lammers reiterated his call for EC President von der Leyen to accept the industry’s invitation to form an EU PACT FOR SUSTAINABLE AVIATION which would represent a significant step change in the alignment between industry and regulators working towards what is, after all, a commonly held goal.
• All conference pictures courtesy of Aviation Media/Tadej Bernik/