European airports alongside tourism organisations have made an appeal for changes to the EU’s COVID-19 State aid framework. The organisations are arguing that without these amends, their respective industries will suffer irreversible damage in a constantly deteriorating situation.
The European Commission has acknowledged that travel will continue to pose a particular challenge in the fight against COVID-19. It has also reiterated the recent advice against non-essential travel “until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved, particularly in the light of the outbreak of new variants.” Airports Council International (ACI) Europe and the European Travel Commission sent a letter on 19 January to the European Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, pointing to how the tightening of travel restrictions across European States is preventing recovery in passenger traffic and reveals yet steeper falls in air connectivity across Europe. The organisations have urged the Commissioner Vestager to come up with more flexible and more effective State aid rules enabling States to provide the financial assistance needed by airports and to support air connectivity.
According to ACI Europe, another 700 air routes have disappeared from European airports since the end of November. This brings the total figure of lost air routes close to 7,000. For the months ahead, ACI Europe is forecasting that passenger traffic in European airports will be down -56% this year (a revision of its previous forecast of -43%).
“The Commisson’s current COVID-19 State aid framework is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to airports,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “It involves limitations and conditionalities that are very hard to comprehend and that are simply unacceptable given the situation we are now facing – not to mention the fact that airlines have already been granted almost 15 times more financial aid than airports so far.”
Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of ETC, added:
What we are asking for is only the support which is proportionate to the severity of the crisis and the outlook we now face. This is about making sure the aviation infrastructure does not suffer irreversible damage, which would in turn create an instant ripple effect through the tourism ecosystem and the local communities dependent on them. We need urgent action – every day counts.
The two organisations are asking for three core requests to be set out to the European Commission. These include: The possibility for airports to obtain full compensation for damages due to COVID-19 and for as long as travel restrictions remain in place; The possibility for airports to be compensated for unrecoverable fixed costs for as long as travel restrictions remain in place – without any cap or limitation as regards total amounts; and the opportunity for airports to benefit from Air Connectivity Restart Schemes – whereby States can provide a direct per passenger subsidy to airlines restarting air routes previously operated or launchidn new routes.