Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport
Better connections: using aviation to link and develop Europe's regions
Routes Europe 2012
Tallinn, 20 May 2012
Ladies and gentlemen
I am delighted to welcome you to Tallinn for this seventh Routes Europe event.
As you know, this is about route expansion and development. These elements are essential for the fast and frequent transport connections that Europe's people and businesses need today - to enable trade flows, stimulate economic growth and create jobs.
That applies even more to our numerous and scattered regions: not only to islands on the far edges of Europe or remote rural communities, but also to places more distant from the centre - Tallinn, for example.
Many of these regions are more economically vulnerable due to their geographical location or difficult terrain.
They need connectivity and cooperation to create prosperity. They depend on transport links. Here, aviation is often the most efficient means of travel - more so than road or rail, which can be constrained by distances and topography.
So maintaining, and also improving, air connectivity is crucial.
An efficient, safe and reliable air transport system that links Europe's regions with each other, and the rest of the world, is important for the broader European economy. It is also just as important for regions to remain connected to Europe’s capitals – so that we are both inclusive and competitive.
We need airports to allow access to the remoter parts of the European continent, to boost the economies of the communities they serve. They already account for half a million local airport jobs and one million regional jobs.
If a regional airport is to survive and thrive, it needs to go beyond the 'end-destination concept'.
The real business potential, the true passenger choice, lies in what I mentioned earlier – connectivity. There must also be connecting flights, to enable the extra flexibility that makes a particular route attractive.
This is so that a regional airport can become a prosperous airport hub in its own right – giving access to national hub airports and to international destinations.
Many regional airports already take this approach. But of course, no airport can assume that it can automatically serve as its region's primary transport hub. It has to work hard to attract and secure that traffic and passenger flow.
I think Tallinn Airport is a good example of how investments, expansion and infrastructure improvements have achieved just that.
I remember the airport's past as a dilapidated Soviet-era building, better known for its poor sanitary facilities than for passenger service. Today, it is truly transformed: a welcoming modern gateway to the Baltic region. Extensive renovations and expansion have turned it into an impressive operation that now puts some other European airports in the shade.
I am delighted to see the impressive growth in passenger numbers. Last year, around 1.9 million passengers travelled through the airport, nearly 40% up on 2010.
One note of caution: if passengers experience too many travel 'negatives'– flight delays, inadequate staffing, over-lengthy security or checking-in procedures, even a lack of basic airport amenities – then a regional airport will lose business, as travellers choose alternatives.
Travelling should, after all, be a pleasure – not a punishment!
Ladies and gentlemen
Regional airlines are looking at increasing their hub business, rather than developing valuable point-to-point services. This is partly a reaction to being squeezed in their traditional markets by low cost carriers and major airlines.
With majors taking more control of their regional traffic and LCCs moving into their non-hub services, regional airlines now have to fly more feeder services into hubs, often for larger airlines.
That said, it is still good news for Europe's regional economies. Regional airlines play a valuable role in providing essential travel connections, including a significant business segment, between secondary airports and to remoter areas.
For regions on the edge of Europe, they are a sensible option, especially for remoter destinations without high traffic volumes or alternative links. This is how our regions stay connected, with each other and with more central areas. From an economic perspective, this is vital.
It is also very much in the interest of regional carriers – and of all other airlines – that we complete the EU's aviation market with the Single European Sky project. Accelerated implementation of the Single European Sky is crucial for the competitiveness, growth and sustainability of Europe's entire air transport system. We all need to push harder so that this is achieved.
This is not only about 500 million passengers and 27 EU countries. Aviation opens up new frontiers and new markets. We are working towards building a much larger aviation area: one billion inhabitants and many more neighbouring countries. This means more business opportunities and more connectivity from the EU to Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean countries.
For regional airlines, the Single European Sky gives them access to more centrally positioned airports and flight corridors so they are not only limited to periphery regions.
But it's also a two-way street: European airlines could be more proactive in making use of airports outside the central areas. Otherwise, those periphery airports could be forced to look outside Europe's borders to generate the traffic volumes they need in order to survive.
Capacity, both in the air and on the ground, is the key problem – along with the extra costs caused by low efficiency and fragmentation of Europe's airspace.
That is why our proposal on slot allocation aims to free up capacity. It will allow the system to handle 24 million more passengers a year by 2025. This will be worth €5 billion to the EU economy and create up to 62,000 jobs by that time.
We owe our citizens efficient and affordable transport services. Airports, especially regional ones, are an important part of that.
Ladies and gentlemen
By providing essential transport links, aviation is vital for integrating and connecting Europe's regions. It boosts their economies by stimulating trade and development, opening new markets and encouraging companies to invest.
That provides a welcome contribution to the growth of Europe's wider economy.
Thank you for your attention and I wish you a successful event.