The European Commission releases a new Aviation Strategy for Europe

Publication December 2015


On December 7, 2015, the European Commission (the Commission) adopted an Aviation Strategy for Europe, a new initiative which intends to increase the competitiveness of the aviation sector in order to boost Europe’s economy, strengthen its industrial base and contribute to the EU global leadership (the Strategy).

The Strategy consists of a Communication identifying challenges and opportunities to improve the competitiveness of the EU Aviation sector, a proposal for a revision of the Aviation Safety Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 216/2008) and a request for authorisation to negotiate EU-level air transport agreements with key third countries.

Identifying challenges and bolstering the competitiveness of EU aviation

When announcing this initiative, EU Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, recognised that European aviation is currently facing a number of challenges and stressed that the new strategy sets out an ambitious action-plan to ensure European companies remain competitive through new investment and business opportunities (for instance, through new external aviation agreements with key partners).

The novelty of the Strategy is that, for the first time, the Commission is taking an inclusive approach covering all areas of EU air transport policy.

In its Communication, the Commission identifies a number of challenges which, in certain cases, may be solved by different means, such as:

  • the completion of ongoing legislative processes regarding proposals already submitted by the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council (most notably, the revision of the passenger rights regulation, the reform of the slot regulation and the revision of the Single European Sky framework (SES2+));
  • the submission of new legislative proposals (e.g. the revision of the basic aviation safety regulation to include provisions on drones, and the adoption of measures to combat unfair practices);
  • the implementation of existing legislation (such as the new EU Regulation on managing noise-related operating restrictions which will be applied throughout Europe from June 2016) and enforcement of existing rules by strengthening the Commission’s cooperation with national enforcement bodies of the EU Member States; and
  • the adoption of guidelines (e.g. on passenger rights, on ownership and control, on public service obligations and best practices in minimum service levels in airspace management).

The main challenges for the growth of EU aviation are the capacity, efficiency and connectivity constraints. For this reason, the new Strategy highlights the importance of completing the Single European Sky initiative, optimising the use of Europe’s busiest airports and monitoring intra-EU and extra-EU connectivity to identify shortcomings.

Furthermore, as mentioned above the Commission is expected to publish interpretative guidelines on the application of Regulation 1008/2008 on the ownership and control of EU airlines to bring more legal certainty for investors and airlines alike. The Commission will also promote the exchange of best practices between Member States in the area of air traffic management.

An area of concern for the Commission is subsidies and unfair prices in connection with non-EU air carriers. The Strategy recognizes that stakeholders do not consider the existing EU legislation on this topic effective. The Commission is considering proposing new EU measures to address unfair practices as soon as possible in 2016. In addition, this issue should be addressed in the context of the negotiation of EU comprehensive air transport agreements with third countries.

Aviation Safety

The Strategy proposes updating the EU’s safety rules in order to maintain high safety standards alongside growing air traffic. The revision of the EU Aviation Safety Regulation will also prepare the EU’s aviation system for future challenges. This includes a legal framework for the safe use of drones and providing legal certainty for industry while addressing concerns related to privacy and data protection, security and the environment. On the other hand, appropriate investments into technology and innovation are crucial in order to guarantee Europe’s leading role in international aviation, which will be achieved among others through the SESAR programme.

Furthermore, the review of the EU’s safety rules will ensure the introduction of a risk and performance based approach which will enhance the overall efficiency of the system. Such a review will enhance the role of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in supporting competitiveness in the manufacturing industry.

Air transport agreements with third countries

In order to exploit new growth markets, the EU is requesting authorisations to negotiate new EU-level comprehensive aviation agreements with key countries and regions in the world. The EU has already concluded comprehensive aviation agreements with the United States and Canada and is currently finalising one with Brazil.

The Commission is now requesting authorisation from the Council of the EU (the Council) to negotiate comprehensive EU-level aviation agreements with states comprising the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as Turkey, China, Mexico and Armenia.

This initiative is expected not only to improve market access but also to provide new business opportunities for European companies and to ensure fair and transparent market conditions based on a clear regulatory framework. These agreements also generally aim to ensure high standards of safety, security, air traffic management, infrastructure, consumer, social, and environmental protection, notably through regulatory dialogue and cooperation. This ultimately results in more connections and better prices for passengers.

In addition, the Commission will negotiate further bilateral aviation safety agreements with aeronautical manufacturing nations such as China and Japan and establish new aviation dialogues with important aviation partners such as India. To date, the EU has concluded aviation safety agreements with US, Canada and Brazil.

The Strategy will also involve the introduction of a ‘One Stop Security’ system with third countries providing an equivalent high level of security to that of the EU. This means that passengers and their baggage that have been through security checks at the point of departure can transfer onto a connecting flight without being subject to a second set of checks. This already applies with the US and similar arrangements with Canada and Montenegro will come into effect as of February 29, 2016.

Next steps

In the next days, the EU Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, will present the Aviation Strategy to the European Parliament and the Council. The Dutch Presidency of the Council will host the Aviation Summit on January 20 and 21, 2016, where the Strategy will be subject to debate among stakeholders.

On the basis of these discussions, the Commission will assess how to implement the Strategy. This assessment will cover the evaluation of existing legislation and its application and may also generate Commission proposals which will be subject to consultation and decision-making procedures.

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