European Affairs

Europe Asks for a Global Approach to Airline Problems     Print Email

The disastrous terrorist attack of September 11 has presented the aviation industry with both short-term and mid-term problems. The first short-term challenge is obviously security, for which we must set much wider goals.

We are facing a global challenge and we need a global perspective. The key words are probably cooperation, cooperation and cooperation again. We need to use every appropriate forum to discuss these matters. I hope that we will now have the opportunity to agree on common standards to improve security worldwide.

Nevertheless, Europeans still have some concern about what is happening in the United States, because we are moving at a slower pace. The United States immediately allocated $3 billion for new security measures, before European Ministers had even begun to act.

Europe will need to ensure that measures taken on either side of the Atlantic are compatible and non-discriminatory and do not con§ict with each other. What the airlines do not need is a multiplication of different regulations that will simply be imposed on them, and may not be just safety and security related.

The second immediate issue is state aid. Here again the United States is moving faster than Europe. The United States put together a $15 billion package, probably the biggest state aid in the history of civil aviation, while the European Council ruled out state aids on September 21. So, there is definitely at this stage a difference of approach. It is probably too early to draw conclusions about, or even to fully analyze, what is on the table on both sides. The Europeans, however, will monitor closely what happens in the United States in order to avoid competitive imbalances. These are the short-term issues.

Over the medium term, I think that we shall move from cooperation to something more like partnership. The crisis we are facing today may provide the opportunity to resolve some of the issues facing the industry as a whole.

I will just mention two at this stage. The first requirement is to get rid of all the constraints imposed on the airlines by the outdated bilateral system and to move toward a new multilateral legal environment.

Europeans and Americans should move from the old "us" and "them" approach to a new "we" approach. Instead of protecting special interests, we should try to meet the demands of the industry, of its customers and of the economy as a whole, so as to make air transportation more efficient and competitive.

The second requirement is to allow the development of international alliances. International alliances are the industry's answer to the growing needs of the traveling public for worldwide service. They also help to make the industry more efficient and competitive.

Today, however, this development is hindered by diverging regulations. Alliances, and the airlines that are forming alliances, need a more stable, predictable and harmonized environment.

All European carriers feel that on these issues, as well as on others such as ownership and control, rules of competition and the right of establishment, the need for a global framework is stronger than ever. This is where we should end up once we are able to overcome our present difficulties.

European airlines have proposed the concept of a Transatlantic Common Aviation Area (TCAA) to address these issues. The TCAA has been adopted by the member states of the European Union and by the European Commission. It calls for a single, liberal, legal environment within which U.S. and EU carriers would operate freely.

To answer the uncontested need for a more global approach, the U.S. has put forward a limited concept that has only been accepted by a few minor aviation partners in the Pacific region. The U.S. seems to consider the TCAA approach as too ambitious, and seems to prefer a step-by-step approach. However, one has to note that the TCAA is the only proposal under discussion.

I personally find this response from the United States quite disappointing, especially when one remembers what used to be called the "Open Sky" policy of ten years ago. At that time many people thought that it was totally unrealistic to talk of open skies, and just look at where we are today.

To give only one example, the forthcoming U.S.-French bilateral negotiations will probably end up with an open skies agreement between France and the United States after more than ten years of, let us say, lively exchanges.

The European airlines urge both the United States and the EU to open discussions, as soon as possible, to define this new environment, preferably on the basis of the TCAA concept. European governments will have to give the European Commission a mandate to enter such discussions. I may be wrong, but I hope that such a mandate will be agreed within the next nine months.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2001.

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