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How COVID-19 dismantled Europe's single aviation market

Premium Analysis

One of the greatest achievements of the European Union is the single aviation market, phased in over a period of years and fully implemented in the 1990s.

It does away with the complex bilateral system that had dominated global aviation since the end of World War Two, removing limits on market access and on ownership/control for airlines within the single market. Together with the development of the internet, this has been the key factor in stimulating the growth of low cost aviation in Europe.

The results of this include enormous increases in connectivity and consumer choice, with consequent benefits to regional economies, employment and human interaction across nations. No other grouping of nations anywhere else in the world has implemented such a liberalised aviation market.

However, it was dismantled in a fortnight in Mar-2020, when COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed unilaterally by member states. Now, the relaxation of travel restrictions in the recovery phase and the approach to airline state aid are also largely piecemeal.

In a crisis, the single aviation market has proved unexpectedly brittle. Its rebuilding may now begin, but initial signs aren't encouraging.

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