Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus says the industry must ask itself fundamental questions

Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, newly appointed secretary-general of the Association of European Airlines (AEA), believes the role of air transport in a global economy must be better defined in order to understand whether fundamental changes should be made to make airlines less vulnerable.

He says there is no solid policy on the part air transport plays in a world where carriers are struggling to achieve profitability and attract private investors. He adds there is a need for "strategic debate" to determine the parameters on which airlines can establish a long-term financial platform. "We need to know whether we can provide sustainable services. Why are we so vulnerable? Is there an inherent deficiency or are we working with a flawed business case?", he asks.

Schulte-Strathaus, who spent the past decade as Lufthansa Group vice-president for government affairs and was closely involved with the airline's privatisation, took over from long-standing AEA chief Karl-Heinz Neumeister on 1 September.

He says the events of last September and the proliferation of low-fare carriers have shown how the market can alter substantially and that established airlines need to find ways of absorbing such changes.

Schulte-Strathaus says the emergence of budget airlines raises basic economic questions such as the need for infrastructure, which "is a key driving force for growth", he says. But while established carriers accept they will pay for services via a contract with an airport, low-fare carriers do not necessarily agree - especially given that they may not require the same service levels. There is an argument that suggests local communities benefiting from new airline connections should contribute to the costs.

Schulte-Strathaus says he will continue to press for reduced delays and the implementation of more efficient air traffic control arrangements in Europe - contentious issues within the association.

But he adds there is a need for better communication between the AEA and its members as well as the association and regulatory bodies at national and European Union level. "The association will have far more lobbying to do," he says.

AEA represents the interests of 30 major European airlines after the accession of two new carriers - Polish national airline LOT and Sabena successor SN Brussels Airlines.

Source: Flight International