Commissioning Change

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While issues relating to aviation security, environment and liberalisation will be at the fore this year, one of the key tasks of new European transport commissioner Siim Kallas will be to draw up the EC's wider transport strategy for the next ten years.

Just the mention of the EC's last such paper, drawn up a decade ago, is enough to send shudders through air transport industry groups. They saw it as ignoring aviation's contribution and focusing on it as a polluter. "We really want to make sure aviation gets the treatment it needs in the review," says ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec. "In the past there was a tendency for it not to recognise the benefits aviation gives to society."

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 Kallas: The key issue facing transport now and for the future is tackling climate change
Chief among association body gripes about the previous strategy was a lack of consultation and impact assessments. That was partly addressed by a 2005 review under Jacques Barrot's more consultative transport commission. European Regions Airline Association director of air transport policy, Andrew Clarke, says this has continued so far on drawing up the new strategy. "This time there has been a very thorough consultation process," he says, but notes it remains to be seen if this will be converted through into the end result.

Clarke says the paper is crucial as "it will set the tone for a lot of what will come in the next two to three years". One unknown is the new transport commissioner himself. While Kallas is not a newcomer to the EC, the Estonian was formerly commissioner in charge of administration, audit and anti-fraud, he has just taken office as part of the new Barroso II Commission. "You never know quite how influential the top man will be and how," notes Clarke. He is, though, heartened to see continuity within the department following the re-organisation into the new Mobility and Transport. "The Commission has some very established players in place, and that is quite encouraging."

Green Priorities

Already clear from president Barroso's flagship 2020 strategy is the greening of the economy will remain central to the EC's outlook. "The most immediate challenge for the EU transport policy is addressing the effects of the economic crisis. But the key issue facing transport now and for the future is tackling climate change," Kallas told Members of the European Parliament in the lead-up to taking up his new role. "Delivering the means to decarbonise transport and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be a key policy goal for the new Commission."

Key Issue: EU-US Open Skies 
A second phase open skies deal must now be agreed by the EU with its US counterparts, covering issues including the lifting of foreign ownership restrictions in the USA. EU states can suspend its side of the deal if no second-stage deal is reached this year. "I do not believe it is in Europe's interest to delay trying to reach an agreement until the last moment, because of the risk of triggering the suspension clause, which would destabilise the transatlantic aviation market," Kallas said after a recent EU ministerial meeting. But while reporting progress in talks so far, he reiterates that without movement on the investment issue, "no deal can be done".
For Europe's airlines, which face a treacle-treading pace of economic recovery in the region, the priority is battling through the current climate. "For the past 12-14 months, most of our attention has been focused on the crisis. We have to say, we got precious little help from the EC," says David Henderson, information manager at the Association of European Airlines.

Sylviane Lust, head of leisure airline body the International Air Carriers Association, adds: "We believe the EC should recognise we are still operating in a crisis. We believe there are measures that should be implemented very soon." Top of IACA's list is Single European Sky, including new pricing rules for air navigation service providers. "This is the only way to get more cost effective service from air providers." Lust cites the importance of funding the SESAR programme and access to the EU's Ten-T transport fund. "We are convinced that without proper funding, the project will be jeopardised," she says. "We should have some of the available Ten T funding. But air transport is fairly poorly recognised as a recipient of Ten T funding." Clarke adds: "It has to be recognised it is a major investment in transport infrastructure. This is a major step and change and Ten T funding is essential." Other key topics include passenger rights rules after last year's European Court ruling on compensation rights applying to flights delayed more than three hours. The ERA, a fierce critic of how original air passenger rights legislation was drawn up, says new rules must not be rushed just for the sake of it. "Is there a problem? If so, how big? This has to be decided before a proposal comes out," says Clarke. The AEA adds: "The focus of the EU institutions should be to fix the root cause of disruption rather than focus on punitive measures."

Key Issue: Aviation Security 
Airport security moved back up the agenda following last December's alleged failed terrorist attempt on a Delta Air Lines aircraft. The subsequent rush to install body-scanner detectors at airports to improve security brings with it both privacy issues and, crucially to airports body ACI Europe, more funding concerns. "Security now accounts for 35% of airport operating costs in Europe - almost entirely borne by the industry, while elsewhere in the world security is quite correctly paid for by government," ACI Europe says, pointing to a competitive disadvantage. An ally here at least appears to have been found in the European Parliament's transport committee, which has put itself on a collision course with European ministers by calling for states' to pick up the cost of security measures above the existing EC common standards - which would include body-scanners.
New Look Department

Kallas will lead a transport department which no longer has direct competence for state-aid issues relating to air transport, which will now be led by DG Competition, while the creation of a dedicated climate change commissioner position creates a further contact point within Brussels for the industry. Koen Vermier, IACA director for aeropolitical and industry affairs, says there is no inherent problem with dealing with a number of departments, as long as there is direct communication between the departments. "It goes wrong when there is no decent communication," he says.

For more on EC attempts to modernise air navigation read our recent analysis