A silver lining to the ash cloud?

In recent years the European Union has zapped its air carriers with over-the-top passenger rights legislation, overcharged them for delaying and long-routing their flights through its jigsaw puzzle air traffic management system, individual EU member governments have stung them for passenger departure taxes, and next year Europe’s airlines will be uniquely required to prepare for an emissions trading scheme which will disadvantage them on international routes.

Meanwhile, in April, the elements hit them with the first volcanic ash cloud ever to have contaminated an area of high density traffic. Beyond suffering losses from inevitable flight cancellations, the EU has made Europe’s airlines pick up the tab for all the expenses of all the travellers that found themselves trapped where they were, simultaneously revealing the inadequacy of alternative methods of long distance travel across Europe, let alone the rest of the world.

But lo, what have we here? The newly created “European Aviation Platform”. Is this assembly of air transport industry experts summoned by the European Commission a sign that the staggering losses to the EU’s economy during that chaotic week woke up officials to aviation’s value in the community?

It would be nice to think so. But waking up the Commission’s officials is not sufficient. It was the European Parliament’s politicians who created the crassly populist passenger rights charter, and despite these straitened time they are quite capable of ignoring the economic good in their quest for publicity and votes.

The CEO of UK’s main air navigation service provider NATS Richard Deakin was one of those called to the Platform. What does he think it signifies?

He says it was a “positive and constructive event” that could have a promising future. It was also an opportunity for the newly appointed European Commission transport V-P Siim Kallas to get his head around his new portfolio.

The next meeting is in March, says Deakin, and it’s a chance for the industry and the Commission collectively to face reality.

One of the top priorities for the first meeting on 20 October was getting the European Single European Sky to happen, because the fact that it does not exist is a major brake on improving air transport efficiency in Europe. Deakin said it is about “turning SESAR into a programme of deliverables rather than an R&D programme.”

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