Olivier Jankovec: Government support for airlines must be mirrored at airports

EUROPE. Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has said that a slow recovery in air traffic looks set to begin this month, but warned that it will take time amid a changed world for aviation. It also hit out at the “blunt instrument” of mandatory quarantines for incoming travellers, such as the UK has adopted.

Passenger traffic at Europe’s airports fell by -98% year-on-year in May, to around 4.3 million across over 500 locations.

Director General Olivier Jankovec said: “With well over half a billion passengers lost so far this year and still no revenues coming in, Europe’s airports are anxiously waiting for travel restrictions to be lifted and airlines to resume operations. With the epidemic now de-escalating in many countries and a plan to allow for intra-European travel – at least within the Schengen area – by the end of the month, we are finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.”

He added: “There is no escaping that the recovery will be slow and gradual – and that the post-COVID-19 aviation market will be fundamentally disrupted and structurally very different. For now, we do not see a return to last year’s traffic volumes before 2023.

“Most national authorities are quite rightly taking a phased approach, but it’s vitally important that devices such as quarantine are risk-based and proportionate. If quarantine is used as a blunt instrument as it is in the UK, it is one which will deliver an economic and social blow from which we will all struggle to recover.”

ACI Europe noted that government support to date had benefited airlines, with more than €24 billion of financial support already approved. But it said that apart from a few exceptions, airports have been excluded from national aid programmes for aviation. “Airports have generally benefited only from temporary unemployment schemes, leaving them in an extremely difficult financial situation,” said ACI Europe.

France, Germany and Italy have extended €19.3 billion in financial support to their major carriers, without providing specific support to their airports.

Major airports are reopening their commercial services amid an increase in flight schedules, but recovery will be slow and gradual, says ACI Europe (Paris CDG pictured)

Jankovec commented: “Keeping airlines afloat – or rather flying, is obviously in the interest of airports. But this does not per se secure their financial viability. With selective governmental support not benefiting all airlines, and with no condition attached for recipient airlines to support their suppliers – including airports, the current situation creates huge imbalances in the air transport eco-system. This essentially brings us back to the era when the interest of airlines used to command aviation policy, with no consideration for other industry stakeholders, let alone consumers.”

Correcting imbalances

ACI Europe, together with the national airport associations of Germany (ADV), France (UAF&FA) and Italy (Assaeroporti), has called on governments and the EU to “address these imbalances”. This should include:

  • Allowing airports to benefit from temporary unemployment schemes under the most favourable conditions and beyond the Summer months. This is crucial to contain permanent layoffs and retain skilled staff, said ACI.
  • Granting financial compensation to airports for the costs involved in remaining open when travel restrictions eliminated demand for air transport as well as for the costs involved in implementing sanitary measures.
  • Ensuring the timely return of slots not used by airlines, to allow airports to limit costs by effectively adjusting resources and staffing to the actual level of airline operations. This would also allow the timely reallocation of unused slots to other airlines – thus benefiting air connectivity.
  • Ensuring that charges paid by airlines for the use of airport facilities better reflect underlying costs as per the “user pays” principle advocated by the European Commission for transport infrastructure.
  • Ensuring further liberalisation of air traffic rights (in particular at niche, secondary hubs and regional airports) and relaxation of airlines’ ownership and control rules to facilitate the restoration and development of air connectivity.