Europe skies reform far off

Europe skies reform far off

May take years to realise; merged traffic control would save airlines €3 billion

By Victoria Bryan (Reuters)

Published: Sun 23 Nov 2014, 12:33 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:08 PM

Antwerp — Implementation of a much-delayed single air traffic zone for Europe remains years off because of resistance from unions and individual European Union states, industry representatives said.

The Association of European Airlines, or AEA, says that streamlining Europe’s jigsaw of national air corridors would save airlines €3 billion ($3.7 billion) a year and consumers a further €6 billion.

While the United States has one provider of air traffic management, Europe has 29 and the European Commission’s Single European Sky scheme to merge airways has progressed at a snail’s pace since its launch more than a decade ago.

“Every year there’s a lot of effort put in, but I don’t see any signs we will have it in the next five years,” Air Baltic ehief executive Martin Gauss said at the Capa World Aviation Summit.

While airlines are keen to merge air traffic systems to reduce costs, the plans have met with fierce resistance from unions.

Most air traffic providers are also closely linked with national governments unwilling to give up control and income.

“Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, so why would a state vote to destroy its own industry,” said Simon McNamara, of the European Regions Airline Association, describing progress as “glacial”.

Job cuts

Aer Lingus, meanwhile, says that a merger of providers would also result in so many job cuts and redundancy payments that it would be uneconomic.

“It can only be successful with mass destruction of jobs in Europe among air traffic controllers,” the airline’s chief executive Christoph Mueller told Reuters. “But the estimated cost of voluntary redundancy schemes is simply not affordable.”

However, airlines may opt to take matters into their own hands and seek a couple of airports, traffic providers and member states willing to work together without agreement at a European Union level, AEA chief Athar Husain Khan said. “We’ve almost given up on the institutional process itself,” Khan said. “One of discussions is whether we shouldn’t just start building these from the bottom up.” But that, too, presents complications, with Aer Lingus’s Mueller pointing out that he would be against a scheme that did not take into account all stakeholders.

The process is frustrating for all involved. “Every time we meet with the unions, they say enough is enough. From the airlines side, they say it’s never enough,” said Margus Rahuoja, European Commission director of aviation and international transport affairs.

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