KLM's van Wijk lays down priorities as new AEA chair

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KLM president and new Association of European Airlines (AEA) chairman Leo van Wijk is calling for a close examination of the European air transport system in order to ensure that airlines remain viable businesses, particularly given the changes in the industry following last year’s attacks on the USA.

Laying down his priorities as he takes over the AEA lead from Air France CEO Jean-Cyril Spinetta, van Wijk says that it is necessary to establish a blueprint for a sustainable system, adding that the European Union White Paper unveiled in September last year is “a good starting point”.

But he says that airlines, in addition to the increased costs of security and poor passenger numbers, are facing further expense pressures from insurance firms and air traffic control authorities.

“All along the line, from aircraft manufacturers through airport and airspace providers, support services to distribution media, we seem to be providing steady returns for everybody – but fail ourselves even to earn our cost of capital,” he says. “The airlines are the weakest link in the chain.”

Problems associated with the distribution of slots, increased air traffic control charges and revised passengers’ rights, he adds, are “not new” but van Wijk says that the current economic and operating environments have arguably highlighted the consequences more clearly than ever before.

He says that the airlines must work with regulators, governments and other parties to resolve the problems, adding: “The airlines can no longer afford to operate within the traditional framework of fragmented answers and isolated solutions.

“The costs of a fragmented approach – both in terms of financial costs and ineffective public policies – can no longer be explained to our customers, employees and shareholders.”