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The European Union is a political and economic union comprising 27 states located primarily in Europe. The EU collectively represents the world's largest economy, with a GDP of USD15 trillion (2009), and counts some 500 million people within its borders. The EU operates as a single market, with a common system of laws and trade policies, with 16 states have forming a monetary union, adopting a common currency - the euro. The single market is based on the four freedoms of the EU: the free movement of labour, capital, goods and services. 22 member states have agreed to abolish passport controls between them, under an agreement known as the Schengen Agreement. Major institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank.
The European Union was established in the aftermath of World War Two to bring peace, stability and prosperity to Europe. Key developments in its history include:
- 1951: The European Coal and Steel Community is established by the six founding members
- 1957: The Treaty of Rome establishes a common market
- 1973: The Community expands to nine member states and develops its common policies
- 1979: The first direct elections to the European Parliament
- 1981: The first Mediterranean enlargement
- 1993: Completion of the single market
- 1993: The Treaty of Maastricht establishes the European Union
- 1995: The EU expands to 15 members
- 2002: Euro notes and coins are introduced
- 2004: Ten more countries join the Union, establishment of the European Constitution
- 2007: Two more countries Join EU, member states sign Treaty of Lisbon.
- 2014: EU elects Jean-Claude Juncker as President for five-year term.
- 2015: Lithuania adopts the Euro as its currency, becoming 19th member of the euro area.
European Commission Vice-President, Siim Kallas, is responsible for Transport.
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It is more than a year since Delta, United and American Airlines published their 'White Paper' alleging state subsidies to Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad. CAPA's Airlines in Transition (AIT) event in Dublin assembled a panel of senior industry figures moderated by John Byerly, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation at the US State Department, to review the arguments.
The US big three claimed that subsidies to the Gulf three distorted the market. They called on the US government to open consultations under the relevant bilateral air services agreements and, in the meantime, to freeze new passenger services. A ponderous bureaucratic process to examine whether action should be taken is still under way. European airlines have also been dragged into the debate.
At the same time, the Gulf airlines have continued to add and announce new routes to the US. Ultimately, the US big three's aims contemplate the termination, or modification, of the relevant 'open skies' bilaterals, which allow the Gulf airlines unlimited capacity on routes to the US (the bilaterals reciprocally offer the same to the US airlines). From airlines faced with unexpectedly effective competition this cynical approach was little more than an attempt to further distort an already protective bilateral system.
Aviation connectivity is a qualitative assessment and a function of many things. Broadly, and over the longer term, connectivity at a point grows as air traffic grows. This means that connectivity is closely related to economic wealth; each drives the other. But connectivity is also subject to other factors that can both constrain and stimulate it.
In the fragile economic world of airlines economics these include aviation infrastructure, taxation, regulations on market access and airport charges, all of which are influenced by governments. Geography and geopolitical issues also play a part. Related to all of these factors, but also having a separate existence, are airline network strategies.
According to a 2015 ACI report, total airport connectivity in Europe increased by 39% from 2005 to 2015, but this relied more on indirect connectivity (up 51%) than on direct connectivity (up 18%). Indirect connectivity through the Gulf and Turkey has been responsible for much of this growth. Authorities and airlines in the EU have much to learn from the supportive aviation policies and ambitious strategies of airlines in those countries. Instead, there is often a reflex that seeks restraint of more effective models.
Opinion polls are notoriously volatile and unreliable predictors. Nevertheless, a recent opinion poll* in the UK has indicated that voters favouring a British exit from the European Union now number more than those favouring the status quo. Whether or not the poll is totally accurate, it indicates that a so-called "Brexit" is a serious possibility.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative government has promised UK citizens a referendum on this before the end of 2017. Meanwhile, he is attempting to renegotiate the UK's membership, so that he can then back a campaign to stay in the EU. He is now hopeful of securing a deal with the UK's European partners at EU summits in Feb-2016 or Mar-2016. This could pave the way for a referendum as soon as Jun-2016.
This report considers the possible implications of a Brexit on the aviation industry in the UK and Europe, with a particular focus on airline traffic rights. Much will depend on how, and to what extent, a post-EU Britain chooses to replicate its existing access to the EU single market in aviation (and in other sectors). Suffice it to say - the situation is uncertain.
Norwegian Air has attempted again to gain DoT approval. Norwegian Air Shuttle's long haul operations, which were launched in 2013 and struggled through 2014, are now flourishing. Routes to the US from London Gatwick, outside the airline's home market, have been added to its Scandinavian-based long haul operation.
However, the long haul network is lopsided, with Bangkok the only destination that is not across the Atlantic. The background is complicated, but this is in large measure due to the imbalance in traffic rights available to it as a Norwegian operator in an EU country. It has waited for more than two years to receive a US foreign carrier permit for its Irish subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, but has been met with intransigence from the US Department of Transportation.
Ever innovative, Norwegian is now having another go, making an application for a US permit with another new subsidiary, Norwegian Air UK, in Dec-2015. Predictably, labour organisations and Norwegian's main Scandinavian competitor SAS have already raised objections to this latest (inevitably legitimate) attempt to operate within the EU-US open skies agreement. The Department of Transportation must not allow itself again to be hijacked by anti-competitive factions.
Europe is still an important aviation region. But it is diminishing in importance and its position as one of the two leading world regions (with North America) has been surpassed by Asia Pacific. Moreover, it is clear from orders for widebody aircraft, the main agent of competition between the regions, that the future belongs to Asia Pacific and the Middle East. In this respect, Europe and North America are becoming 'also rans'.
That said, Europe is home to globally significant airlines and other aviation companies, and these players are anxious to participate in the growth offered by aviation markets to the east. The European Union's new Aviation Strategy document, published on 7-Dec-2015, recognises this: "The EU aviation sector must be allowed to tap into the new growth markets where significant economic opportunities will be generated in the decades to come".
However, all six associations representing Europe's aircraft operators issued a joint response calling for more specific and far-reaching remedies. In a rare display of unity, AEA, EBAA, EEA, ELFAA, ERA and IACA* said that that the strategy "lacks ambition". It certainly seems to duck some key issues.
* AEA (Association of European Airlines), EBAA (European Business Aviation Association), EEA (European Express Association) ELFAA (European Low Fares Airline Association), ERA (European Regions Airline Assocation), IACA (International Air Carrier Association)
Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines respond to Gulf competition with a limited JV. There is scope for more
The rise of the Gulf carriers continues to pressure airlines that were once formidable individual competitors into joining forces to combat a more effective rival. And so the Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines groups have been forced to compromise their previous independence. One new strategy is to form a revenue sharing joint venture. This method of cooperation is becoming more common between Europe and Asia, having already been established in the trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific markets. Most JVs were established to enhance a position of strength built on pre-existing solid footing. In comparison, Lufthansa and SIA are setting aside differences in this time of duress to respond to the Gulf carriers that have changed their business profoundly.
Although Lufthansa and SIA account for about 27% of non-stop Western Europe-Southeast Asia capacity, their share of flown passengers is around 13%. Emirates alone has 12%; adding Etihad and Qatar now has 27% of the market transitting via the Gulf. But SIA and Lufthansa are the only airlines operating non-stop service between their respective countries.
Despite the severe situation, perhaps bordering on crisis, the response from Lufthansa and SIA is limited. Their JV will only cover routes from Singapore to Germany (the hub of Lufthansa) and Switzerland (the hub of Swiss). This is only one third of their Europe-Southeast Asia market. Lufthansa and SIA will remain competitors on many other market pairs - and this could become a source of friction, or at least suspicion. A Singapore-London passenger, for example, could go non-stop on SIA outside the JV or via a German/Swiss hub under a JV. Both airline groups will compete for a Kuala Lumpur-Amsterdam passenger.