Here comes another package. The Juncker Commission seems to love them, particularly for the holistic approach they can provide (and for the sake of better regulation, since they count as one – of course).
Although the aim is praiseworthy, addressing the issues of the whole aviation sector in one go is proving to be challenging to put down on paper. The official aim is to “improve the competitiveness of the EU aviation sector”, a careful choice of words – which lets your imagination run free. For one year now the most varied Brussels stakeholders – from MEPs to businesses and NGOs – have been wondering (and lobbying) on what will be included in the package.
Nevertheless, the fact that the Aviation Package has made it through better regulation screening by the Commission’s First-Vice-President is at least proof of real interest on the Commission’s side, which is even more significant considering that transport was not even mentioned in Juncker’s 10 priorities, an omission that worried most stakeholders at the time.
At the heart of the package is an attempt to improve the competitiveness of the EU’s aviation industry compared to third countries. To be more precise, competitiveness against Gulf countries’ carriers and their alleged unfair competition practices.
But the aviation package will also have to address a wide range of other challenges facing the sector, including safety, social and environmental concerns, air traffic management and airport competitiveness, to name a few.
Maintaining competitiveness is not an easy task because of the very nature of the business: Aviation is truly global exposing it to risks beyond its control like fluctuations of the oil price, political crises or extreme weather conditions.
In addition, reforming the EU aviation sector has proved to be challenging from a political point of view. If we look at the last few years, several attempts at reform have been blocked by Member States backed by industry opposition, with the Commission lacking the teeth to push things further. The extremely slow progress of the Single European Sky is a clear example of this. Proposals on passenger rights and slots have failed to find agreement and a proposal on ground-handling has even been withdrawn.
All stakeholders are now looking at the Commission to make the difference, but progress will require Member States and aviation stakeholders to work constructively to make solutions happen, this time.