European airports have got the blues
By Isabelle Smets | Friday 06 July 2012
European airports are feeling unloved. The EU is carrying on as if nothing is amiss while the situation in its airports is anything but normal. “The gap between the economic reality we are now facing and the focus of policy making is worrying,” said Declan Collier, president of ACI Europe, the European association representing airports. “One gets the feeling that - despite our best efforts - our policy makers and regulators are losing touch with us and our industry’s needs.”
The removal of restrictions on liquids in hand luggage is one example. According to EU legislation, these restrictions should be scrapped on 29 April 2013, and thereafter all airports in the EU should be equipped with devices that can detect liquid explosives. ACI Europe says this technology is not yet adapted to these requirements - but the Commission is not listening.
“The insistence with which we have been told that - no matter what - some form of removal of the restrictions must happen in April 2013 was hard to swallow,” said Collier. “It has left us with the uncomfortable conclusion that the underlying rationale is not based on an improvement in passenger welfare nor an improvement in operational efficiency at airports, but that it is driven by political considerations.”
Another example is state aid. “The European Commission wants to limit or stop public financing of airport infrastructure. It believes that airports can recover their full costs from users and that this will stimulate more private investment in regional airports,” explained Collier. “While these objectives are laudable, they simply ignore the blunt economic and social reality of these airports. What we cannot accept is the idea that Europe should cease all public financing for airport infrastructure, while the rail network gets an astonishing €42 billion of public money every year. The president of ACI Europe, referring to examples outside the EU, recalled that in the United States and in certain other countries “airports have unlimited access to public funds and enjoy a very favourable tax regime”.
In short, airports have got the blues. “What should be blindingly obvious is that there is every reason to include airports and aviation in Europe’s growth strategy. There is not a single reason not to,” said Collier. Highlighting the 1.3 million jobs that Europe’s 400 airports create (with more than three million ‘indirect’ jobs linked to the airport industry), ACI Europe called for a true industrial policy to promote aviation. “Airports’ role must not be narrowly defined by policy makers and regulators as being only about tourism, but rather it must be recognised as being more generally about enabling trade and stimulating and providing investment, as well as economic regeneration and job creation.”