The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) is warning of a decline in traffic to regional airports if the European Commission pushes for tradable take-off and landing slots at Europe's busiest airports.
The European Parliament last week approved the long-delayed harmonisation bill for Europe's existing slot regimes and is expected to launch a more radical reform later in the year (Flight International, 2-8 March). The ERA fears the EC will base its recommendation for any future slot rationing purely on economic considerations. A report analysing the most efficient way to ration slots at the continent's hubs, carried out by consultants National Economic Research Associates (NERA), tacitly recommended a mixture of slot trading and auctions.
The ERA says such a move would mean Europe's secondary airports would lose air access to major hub airports as regional services would be eased out in favour of long-haul flights. The EC says it has not committed to any mechanism, but it is looking for ways of making Europe's slot-limited major hub airports like Frankfurt Main, Paris Orly and London Heathrow more efficient.
The NERA study says this could be achieved by the improved actual use of allocated slots, or by upping passenger movements per slot. In both cases, says NERA, making slots a commercially tradable commodity would ensure that they are more likely to go to airlines that have the potential to make the most money from them, and that slots will more rarely be missed for operational or administrative reasons.
NERA admits that this would tend to consolidate the hold on slots of the dominant carriers at the hubs, and that the slots would tend to be used for long-haul widebodies on high load-factor routes. However, the report suggests any carrier's resultant dominant position could be dealt with through existing European competition law.
ERA director general Mike Ambrose says: "If the EC embraces NERA's market mechanisms, secondary cities such as Inverness [Scotland], Florence [Italy] or Bremen [Germany] would find their connecting services to hub airports displaced or, at worst, terminated."
DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON
Source: Flight International