The European aviation sector remains a key contributor to the wider EU economy. Competition from particularly Asian Pacific players is picking up however, as the region becomes a global economic powerhouse. To meet that competition, the European Commission recently sought to find ways in which to make the European aviation industry more competitive. One of which is the introduction of a shared responsibility approach to EU aviation regulation, as well as pursuing strong international regulatory frameworks and procedures that place airlines globally on a level playing field.
Aviation remains an important contributor to economic growth, jobs, trade and mobility for the European Union (EU). The sector employs between 1.4 million and 2 million people directly, and overall accounts for between 4.83 million and 5.54 million jobs. The sector contributes €110 billion directly to EU GDP, while the wider impacts from the sector bring in up to €510 billion through the multiplier effect.
The liberalisation of the market, as well as its rigorous safety standards, has helped the EU secure a strong and prosperous aviation sector over the past 20 years. Passengers are now able to choose from a number of carriers, each with a level safety standard applied across the EU. Low-fare EU carriers are now amongst the top carriers both in terms of passengers and in terms of market capitalisation. European aeronautical manufacturing has been equally strong.
Yet while Europe has a strong internal market place for aviation, competition from the East is heating up as the Asia-Pacific region benefits from a fast-changing and developing global economy. The region’s aviation sector is forecast to grow 6% annually, outstripping all other regions until 2024. As a result, China is expected to become the world’s largest air transport market, overtaking the US in 2023 in terms of number of passengers carried.
The European Commission commissioned a report, titled ‘An Aviation Strategy for Europe’, into ways of improving the European aviation sector’s competitiveness in the face of Asian expansion. A number of organisations took part in the development of the final document, with consulting firm Ecorys focusing on the improvement to the safety and security side of future aviation in the EU.
Aviation safety and security competitiveness
Aviation safety and security is a key element of the EU aviation sector. The EU has one of the safest airspaces in the world, on the back of stringent rules around carrier safety that all EU operators must abide. The regulations also disallow a number of unsafe international carriers to enter the EU’s airspace, thereby further protecting both national and international passengers. As passenger numbers are only expected to increase in the coming years, with 14.4 million flights in 2035 – 50% more than in 2012, regulations surrounding the increase and the maintenance of the security of passengers will need to be considered.
To remain competitive however, the report finds that the regulatory system needs to be better equipped to deal with risks in a ‘quicker and more effective manner’, for which it recommends a performance-based approach to safety regulation and oversight. One such measure is the improved leveraging of resources at EU and Member States level. A framework needs to be developed that allows for the 'sharing of technical resources between the national authorities and the European Aviation Safety Agency should be put in place.' This will allow EU Member States to transfer responsibilities for the implementation of EU legislation to the European Aviation Safety Agency or another Member States. According to the report, a single European aviation authority should be the longer term ambition.
The threat of terroristic activity remains high. The report highlights that regulations will need to remain in place that proportionately meet risks. However, where ever possible redundant checks that inhibit passenger flows need to be removed, and technologies that facilitate passenger flows at airports and minimise the inconvenience and delays for passengers need to be introduced. The EU, as a defender of inalienable rights, will need to carefully consider the wider implications of technologies deployed. One possible move is the introduction of a ‘one-stop security concept’. This allows passengers to undergo all of the security controls at the point of origin.
A further move would see the EU spread its high aviation safety standards across the globe, by helping to push for a worldwide safety standard. Finally, the report suggests that regulations are streamlined in ways to reduce unnecessary procedures that add little value in terms of safety and cost time and money, while creating opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.