Ask the director general of the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) what the European Union (EU) could most usefully do to help his members in the current economic doldrums and the answer is blunt: "At least a 12-month moratorium on all new initiatives."

Mike Ambrose, who will be spending much of the week at the show, is clearly incandescent with certain sections of the EU. The reason? What he regards as its infuriating 'business as normal' attitude in the midst of the worst set of economic circumstances the aviation industry has endured in its century of existence.

He particularly singles out a proposal for hefty new passenger compensation payments that ERA believes could increase costs to such an extent as to make some regional airline operations uneconomic.

It is, he says, "probably the most ineptly-drafted proposal the industry has ever seen, put forward with no justification, no cost-benefit evaluation and essentially no substantial equivalent of a regulatory business case."

The European Commission's proposal has just come back from the Council of Ministers "with more than 90 amendments".

"Can you believe a serious piece of legislation requiring 90 amendments at ministerial level? That's the kind of numbers you see in a US basketball game! It just shows how poorly the proposal was prepared."

Not everything the Commission produces is so abysmal, he concedes - "Its proposals on safety occurrence reporting were excellent" - but ERA hopes to secure amendments when the proposed compensation legislation returns to the European Parliament "to minimise the damage to the industry".

Ambrose also feels that other organisations - notably air navigation service providers (ANSPs) - have so far failed to make the efficiencies that airlines have been forced to introduce.

"At a time when the industry's profitability is so poor, we expect to see ANSPs striving for the same improvements in efficiency the industry is having to face. That hasn't been the case. They are guaranteed full recovery of their costs and in far too many instances the attitude has been: 'If there's a reduced traffic level, then we simply increase unit charges to compensate'."


ERA believes there are "ample opportunities" to reduce the cost burden of European air traffic control through the elimination of activities duplicated by each state, together with the outsourcing of activities such as the maintenance of radio navigation aids.

Ambrose does not condemn all ANSPs; the UK's NATS and Germany's DFS have promised strenuous efforts to cut costs, he notes. However, he asks: "Where are the equivalent savings in other states?"

On the brighter side, he notes that regional airlines have in many cases turned in better passenger figures than many of the majors, even if those improvements have to be viewed against the huge dip in passenger travel in the wake of 11 September 2001.

Source: Flight Daily News