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Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for transport

Air travel disruption

ACI Europe Board Meeting

Brussels, 19 January 2011

The year 2010 has been very difficult for European aviation – the volcano, cargo bomb attacks and snow.

We estimate that in 2010 175 000 flights were cancelled: 100 000 due to the ash cloud, 35 000 in December due to bad weather conditions. Nobody has the full picture how much luggage has been lost and delayed. We faced lost revenues for aviation as a whole and millions of angry and unhappy passengers. This is an unacceptable situation and it cannot continue. Dealing with passengers has been one of the major problems throughout these crises. I appreciate the efforts of airports during the volcano crisis to help passengers. But overall during last year's negative events we noticed in general two very bad trends – a lack of information and a lack of commitment to care about passengers.

All the relevant actors in the aviation sector must be able to react in a crisis and must put in place effective crisis management. The bigger picture is that European aviation – a very important sector of our economy – faces serious challenges in global competition.

The crises we have seen in 2010 are symptomatic of underlying structural problems in the aviation sector. The EU is facing a capacity crunch at airports. In the most challenging scenarios, it is estimated that, by 2030, about 40 airports will be congested 8 hours a day. 25% of demand might not be accommodated.

In our future activities, including preparations for new legislative initiatives at European level (the airport package, passengers rights legislation, security measures), we must approach air transport services in their full complexity. That means we need to see the full chain – including passengers, airlines, air traffic management, airports, maintenance, ground handling. Risks must be shared proportionally along the full chain, including risks for passengers. Profits and losses cannot be too disproportionate; responsibility must be shared along the chain and actions in a crisis must be co-operative and coordinated.

What can we do now?

The introduction of free and fair competition in air transport has created new services, new opportunities, new revenues and has proved to be a driving force in the development of air services. The European Commission will continue to ensure that free competition continues and new opportunities appear.

But, we must realize that costs are not everything. In my view, the current extreme cost competition in air transport services has created strains, stretched the capabilities of service providers, and risks reducing the quality of services.

To combine the driving force of free competition and high quality of services we clearly need to introduce a set of quality standards. This must be done, in the first place, not by government machinery and not by European institutions. This must be done by industry itself, perhaps also through ICAO, IATA and by stakeholders.

This approach would provide the opportunity also to address the difference between so-called "network" carriers and so-called "low-cost" airlines. There it may be better to refer to the different types of airlines as "full service airlines" and "minimal service airlines": it is more precise, more adequate.

I would be very interested to hear your opinion and the opinions of all stakeholders about the idea of having air service quality standards as soon as possible. Where there is a need, all of these issues will be reflected in our legislative initiatives, including the airport package coming later this year.

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