Short-haul flights crucial testing ground for decarbonising aviation

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The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) has condemned recent European Government announcements to ban short-haul air routes to reduce the environmental impact of aviation.

According to ERA, its airline members connect parts of Europe where air transport is both vital and often the only mode of transportation available to inhabitants in remote regions, islands and dispersed areas. It also highlights that the short-haul segment is creating the necessary push towards the decarbonisation of the sector, providing a testing ground for new technologies that will enable the green transition to a more sustainable industry. For example, electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft will be available first on short-haul routes by 2035, before being deployed on longer routes beyond 2050.

“Banning air routes is dangerous as it may be seen as good for the environment, but in reality, it is not for many reasons,” said Montserrat Barriga, ERA Director General. “Firstly, routes with the equivalent alternative route by train are very few and in most cases the rail network already has the market share anyway. Secondly, the initiative may result in an increase in passengers electing to use their cars to reach their destination. Thirdly, a lot of regional airlines operate routes with thin traffic, so it is unlikely that rail networks will replace sectors that are wholly unprofitable. Lastly, short-haul will be the first sector to test and deploy green technologies. It is therefore simply not effective to reduce CO2 emissions by banning short-haul routes.”

Barriga also argued that banning these routes will also create a sentiment against aviation amongst the public. The focus instead should be on developing solutions that can actually provide CO2 reductions, and not hinder their progress.

“Our industry takes it environmental responsibilities seriously and will do what is necessary to achieve its targets, but we cannot do it alone. We need a supportive policy framework to reach decarbonisation,” Barriga continued.

Improving air traffic management through the proper implementation of the Single European Sky (SES) would, she said, lower CO2 emissions of the intra-EU flights by up to 10%.

Europe’s aviation sector puts forward pact for decarbonisation targets

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The European Commission has outlined proposals aimed at reducing net EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030 in its ‘Fit for 55’ legislative package published on Wednesday 14 July.

The proposals represent a major stepping stone to reach the EU’s climate goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and is in line with the aviation sector’s objectives of achieving net-zero CO2 emissions from all flights within and departing Europe by 2050.

In support of the ‘Fit for 55’ initiative, Europe’s airports, airlines, air navigation service providers and manufacturers have put forward the development of an EU Pact for Sustainable Aviation – a joint roadmap for industry and policymakers to align their actions towards realising the 2030 and 2050 climate goals. Led by the European Commission, the pact would set out a shared vision, common aspirational targets and high-level principles for joint aviation and policymaker action.

Earlier this year Europe’s aviation stakeholders launched the Destination 2050 initiative – a combination of measures across four pillars that can be used to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 205o. These include: improvements in aircraft and engine technologies; ramping up production and uptake of sustainable aviation fuels; implementation of smart economic measures; and improvements in air traffic management (ATM) and aircraft operations.

In a statement, the five associations (ACI Europe, ASD Europe, Airlines for Europe, ERA and CANSO) behind Destination 2050 said: “European aviation supports the Commission’s climate ambitions and Destination 2050 is our sector’s contribution to their implementation – but the roadmap clearly shows that we cannot do this alone. Realising our ambition and achieving a net-zero European aviation requires fully aligned and enabling policy, regulatory and financial frameworks – both at EU and national level. For this reason, we call on the European commission to support and take the lead in the development of an EU Pact for Sustainable Aviation to drive these proposals forward. We stand ready to engage with the European Commission to define such a Pact and hold regular exchanges to ensure its implementation.”

EU’s Digital Green Certificate system to help restart travel

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Europe’s aviation sector has welcomed the European Commission’s proposal for a Digital Green Certificate system. The proposed certification scheme will require EU States to issue common, inter-operable and mutually-recognised certificates for COVID-19 vaccination, testing and recovery status that will facilitate free movement during the COVID pandemic and support the restart of travel.

Industry trade bodies including European Region Airlines Association (ERA), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, the Civil Air Navigation Systems Organisation (CANSO), Airlines for Europe (A4E) and the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) consider these certificates a key tool to facilitate a safe and efficient resumption of travel and tourism in Europe.

A statement from the associations read: “We welcome the European Commission’s adoption of the proposal for a Digital Green Certificate. The EC has our full support and we call on the European Parliament and Council to work on its swift adoption via an emergency procedure. We need a clear path out of this crippling situation, and appeal once again to the EU Member States to implement common solutions and plan ahead in a fully coordinated and aligned way. We repeat: a safe restart of air travel is possible, and we can save both lives and livelihoods – but we need the EU to lead from the front. States must now do their part by acting in a coordinated manner, to avert yet another patchwork solution of fragmented agreements borne out of frustration and necessity.”

Revealing the strong pent-up demand for travel, recent polling showed that 54% of Europeans aim to take a trip before the end of July 2021. Among this group, 41% wish to travel to another European country, underlining the benefit of common EU framework. In addition 89% of people agree that governments need to standardise testing and vaccine certificates.

EU Governments are being urged to ensure certificates are operational in time for the peak summer travel months – with vaccination certificates, in particular enabling the elimination of restrictions to travel whilst recognising that vaccination should not be mandatory in order to travel. A more detailed plan is also needed to energise economic recovery and restore freedom of movement as soon as borders are reopened.

Reiterating their call for an EU Task Force for the Restoration of the Free Movement of People, the associations urged the European Institutions to immediately begin work on this roadmap, which needs to follow a risk-based and data-driven approach taking into account: the acceleration of the vaccine roll-out across the EU over the coming months; an ambitious and coordinated testing strategy; the evolution of the epidemiological situation; existing statistical modelling on the very limited impact of travel on COVID-19 incidence rates; and the results of COVID-19 tested flight pilots.

With the latest data released by ACI Europe showing that more than 7,500 air routes across Europe have been lost as a result of the pandemic, the situation is particularly acute in teh EU/ EEA/ Switzerland and the UK, with a -89.3% decrease in passenger volumes in February compared with a year ago. In contrast, the rest of the wider European market (including Russia and Turkey) are reporting a 56% decrease.

With the industry operating at massively reduced capacity and hundreds of thousands of staff laid off or on salary support, restarting air travel is complex. It will require the need to bring aircraft and terminals back into service and marketing and ticketed services back online.

Commenting on how the Digital Green Certificate is a major step in the right direction, CEO of the European Travel Commission and Chairman of the European Tourism Manifesto Alliance, Eduardo Santander, said: “Time is of the essence now. We need a clear plan outlining conditions and timing to prepare for the safe restart of travel and tourism in Europe to be ready for the critical summer season 2021! Europe should work on this together leaving no place for fragmentation and unilateral actions.”

Editor’s comment: Charting a path to carbon neutrality

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While aviation has been devastated by the pandemic it continues to demonstrate its resilience particularly in making flying more sustainable for the long term.

Last week five European aviation associations – Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD Europe), Airlines 4 Europe (A4E), Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) and European Regions Airline Association (ERA) – launched an initiative charting a path for achieving net-zero European aviation emissions by 2050.

Named Destination 2050 – A Route to Net Zero European Aviation, the initiative is driven by an independent report and calls for decisive action from both governments and industry. It is also the first pan-European, industry-wide, long-term vision offering concrete solutions to address the complex challenge of all air traffic within and departing the EU, UK and EFTA realising this net zero vision by 2050.

The roadmap for how aviation could achieve carbon neutrality by the mid-century underlines the majority of cuts would be made through technologies such as hydrogen and hybrid-electric propulsion, as well as sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and the development of the supporting infrastructure. Better air traffic management and aircraft operations as well as the implementation of economic measures will also help deliver reductions. Highlighting that it takes two to tango, ACI Europeʼs Director General Olivier Jankovec also underlined that while industry will need to substantially invest in decarbonisation and innovation and making the necessary operational transitions, governments will need to do their bit in ensuring a level playing field and facilitating this transition through incentives and by reducing investment risks with a consistent and stable policy framework.

Destination 2050 is certainly an ambitious pathway to chart, but this pandemic has reignited the need to focus on the environment and united stakeholders in their quest to “build back better”.  It’s about playing the long game and a concrete set of actions and policies that EU regulators need to commit to now offers a strong launch pad for success!

Enjoy this weekʼs newsletter and have a great weekend,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway