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Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for transport
Statement by Vice-President Siim Kallas on the economic impact of the volcanic ash cloud on the air transport industry
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Brussels, April 27th 2010
I have today informed the College of Commissioners on a possible package of measures to help the air transport industry to overcome this difficult crisis.
I want to highlight what I see as the main elements where we can provide relief at European level.
First, there are temporary measures where flexibility is needed in applying EU rules to ease the pressure on airlines.
1. Airlines need to be able to keep slots which were not used during this crisis period.
2. Member States should be able to provide temporary derogations from scheduling restrictions – such as night flying restrictions – to bring stranded passengers home as quickly as possible and get freight deliveries back to normal.
3. Temporary measures could also be foreseen to help airlines with short-term cash flow problems, by deferring for a limited period the en-route charges normally paid by airlines to air traffic control.
Second, there are other areas where immediate action is needed to ensure co-ordinated European solutions.
1. The Commission considers that the exceptional circumstances of recent days may justify support measures to offset losses incurred. Any support granted by Member States must respect a level playing field. If support from Member States takes the form of state aid measures, it must be granted on the basis of uniform criteria established at European level. It cannot be used to allow unfair assistance to companies which is not directly related to the crisis. The Commission is prepared to present a communication putting clear and precise guidelines in place.
2. We need pan-European enforcement of EU passenger rights legislation. Again, there must be a level playing field. No airline company should benefit from a competitive advantage by avoiding its legal obligations. The European Commission will be very active in ensuring common standards of enforcement this area.
3. We need urgently to address the risk management planning for any future disruption caused by volcanic activity. The Commission will take the lead to move this process forward. It will create an expert group of all stakeholders and develop a new European methodology for safety risks and risk management. The aim is for the EU to submit a proposal for a new regulatory framework to the International Civil Aviation Organisation in September 2010.
Finally, there are more medium-term structural issues we need to address.
1. We need to fast track the Single Skies package. We need a single European regulator for a single European sky. Stronger European co-ordination will not solve every problem. But faced with such a pan-European crisis, it would have enabled a much more agile response. The European Commission stands ready to fast-track its work to have many core elements of the Single European Sky II package in place by the end of this year. We will look for political support from transport ministers at the extraordinary meeting on May 4th to take this forwards.
2. We need to address pan-European crisis planning for transport for any future major disruption. This is a long-term structural issue which needs serious work and reflection. In particular, we need to look at the ability of one transport mode to supplement another (so-called "co-modality"). If there is political support from transport ministers on May 4, I would like to see the European Commission given a political mandate to work on these issues, and to report back to ministers.
3. The Commission will establish an aviation platform. I intend to create a structure to bring together all aviation stakeholders at European level to ensure better co-ordination of measures impacting on the aviation sector over the long term, and to follow up these crisis measures.
This crisis has put in stark relief the critical role that the air transport sector plays in the functioning of the European economy. Sometimes we do not always appreciate something until it is not there. Millions of businesses and citizens across Europe are highly dependent on a functional and competitive airline industry. It is in our interest to get the air transport sector over this crisis and back to normal operating conditions. At European level, the Commission will do everything possible to make that happen.