Masks are a thing of the past for Europe’s airports

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The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have updated their Aviation Health Safety Protocol to advise that wear mask wearing is no longer mandatory on public transport, this also needs to be the case at airports and on-board aircraft.

The Aviation Health Safety Protocol, advises European States and industry on the progressive de-escalation of protective measures aimed at limiting the risk of COVID-19 infection during air travel. Reflecting the evolution of the epidemiological situation and risks  as well as the latest scientific evidence, the updated guidance also removes the requirement to ensure physical distancing within terminals and other airport areas. In addition, it removes access restrictions to airport terminals, therefore allowing passengers and all other visitors to enter and use the range of services there.

Where health checks and testing requirements remain in place, the guidance advises that States should implement ‘One Stop’ arrangements to avoid duplication between departure, transit and arrival processes.

Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s Director General, Olivier Jankovec, welcomed the updated guidance saying: “Over the past two years, the EASA-ECDC Aviation Health Safety Protocol has been essential to ensure risk-based and uniform COVID-19 protective measures for air travel across Europe. This remains the case with today’s update, with guidelines that continue to be effective, proportionate, and practical – and which reflect the fact that an increasing number of States no longer mandate wearing face masks nor social distancing for travel.”

He also noted that with the summer season set to be a busy one, the new guidance marks another step in the safe recovery of European aviation and it will make the travel experience much more pleasant, while keeping passengers and staff safe.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) Director General, Willie Walsh commented that “Travellers can look forward to freedom of choice on whether to wear a mask. And they can travel with confidence knowing that many features of the aircraft cabin, such as high frequency air exchange and high efficiency filters, make it one of the safest indoor environments.”

12 more European airports raise their game on decarbonisation standards

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The Airport Carbon Accreditation has announced that 12 more European hubs have aligned their operations with global climate goals. The 12 airports, which include Basel-Mulhouse in France/ Switzerland, Lisbon, Porto, Madeira, Faro, Flores, Porto Santo, Horta, Maria and Ponta Delgada in Portugal and Stockholm Arlanda and Goteborg Landvetter in Sweden have joined a list of 14 early airports to have achieved Level 4/4+ of the programme.

The recently introduced Levels 4 and 4+ include alignment of an airport’s carbon management with the Paris Agreement, inclusion of additional emissions sources in an airport’s carbon footprint, notably covering all significant operational emissions from third parties including airlines, and enhanced stakeholder engagement geared towards effective partnerships to deliver emissions reductions.

Aligning carbon management strategies and plans with the ambition of the Paris Agreement, according to which global warming should be limited to below 2⁰C and ideally 1.5⁰C, means that airports must define their reduction targets and associated emissions pathways accordingly.

Having met all the necessary requirements to reduce its own carbon emissions  as well as reducing emissions across the entire platform in cooperation with its partners, Basel-Mulhouse Airport has moved to Level 4 ‘Transformation’. The air transport hub reduced its own emissions by implementing a number of initiatives, such as the purchase of 100% green electricity, the replacement of the airport’s vehicle fleet with electric transportation and the gradual connection of the airport to an existing biomass powered district heating network.

In Sweden. Stockholm Arlanda which was among the 17 pioneering airports joining the Airport Carbon Accreditation in its first year back in 2009, achieved Level 4+ ‘Transition’, as did Goteborg Landvetter Airport. All Swedavia airports have been operating fossil-free as of 2020, becoming de-facto net-zero carbon emissions for all their operations. The Swedish airport operator has now mapped out the next steps in its commitment to climate change, by supporting other companies and organisations at its airports in their own transformations. One of the initiatives put forward by Swedavia’s airports was the introduction on 1 January, 2022 of an incentive for all stakeholders active at the Goteborg and Arlanda to start refuelling Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), fossil-free diesel. The goal is for all ground operations at every Swedavia airport to be fossil-free by 2025.

Meanwhile, the nine airports in Portugal, all of which are operated by ANA/ VINCI Airports, have all now achieved Level 4 ‘Transformation’. They are now actively reducing their CO2 emissions, through schemes such as: 100% renewable electricity, fleet electrification and LED deployment, and forging effective partnerships to secure absolute emissions reductions across the airports’ sites.  In June 2021, ANA/ VINCI Airports launched the Stakeholders Carbon Forum, to work with the main partners that operate at their premises to achieve an overall reduction of carbon footprint. The forum is the main platform of collaboration between the airports and their partners, including airlines, handlers, major energy consumers and entities linked to mobility, such as city councils and transport companies.

Commenting on the airports’ achievements Olivier Jankovec, Director General at ACI Europe said: “These achievements mean that airports are not only committed to addressing and eliminating emissions under their own control, but that they also embrace their role as catalysts for climate action across their entire sites. Airports are uniquely placed within the air transport eco-system, acting as the industry’s representation on the ground, connecting a global industry to the local communities they serve. This unique position makes it part of their DNA to serve as platforms for greener, smarter, more climate-friendly operations and solutions.”

European airports reinforce commitment to net-zero future with Toulouse Declaration

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To reinforce the aviation industry’s commitment to a net-zero future, airports across Europe have signed up in record numbers to the Toulouse Declaration on the future sustainability and decarbonisation of aviation.

The Toulouse Declaration marks the first time that European governments, the European Commission, industry, unions and other key stakeholders formally align on aviation decarbonisation.

The declaration is a significant moment for the aviation industry as it paves the way for the next steps in the establishment of an EU Pact for Aviation Decarbonisation and as we look to the global goals for aviation which the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will set out later this year.

Airports have long been at the forefront of leading the challenge of decarbonising aviation. With almost 200 European airports now certified under the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, and close to 400 airports globally, Airport Council International (ACI) Europe’s work to reach net zero carbon emissions for operations under an airport’s control by 2050 continues to make tangible progress.

“Each and every airport undersigning the declaration is making a tangible difference to our future as an industry, an economy and as a society,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “They continue to demonstrate ambition, vision and excellence in their sustainable actions. I admire and applaud each every one of them.”

ACI Europe’s signing of the declaration, both in its own right and as a partner in the Destination 2050 aviation industry roadmap, is complemented by the individual undertaking of more than 200 airports across the continent also adding their signatures.

Commenting further on the UK airport community’s commitment to the declaration and to decarbonising aviation, Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “Despite the devastating impact the pandemic has had on UK airports’ finances, airport leaders remain committed to our net zero emissions by 2050 target.

“As we recover from the pandemic, there is a real opportunity to build back better and return to 2019 passenger levels while reducing environmental impacts.

“Government and industry need to work together to achieve this, with the recent government funding for the next stage of airspace modernisation a step in the right direction. The UK government should use its planned Aviation Strategic Framework to outline how they will further support industry’s efforts.

“The AOA has set out that this should include a Green Airports Fund to help fund sustainability initiatives while airports’ finances recover from the significant losses of the last two years.”

Eurocontrol and ACI Europe ink deal commiting to aviation’s sustainable future

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To further underline their commitment to collaborating on aviation’s successful and sustainable future, ACU Europe’s Director General, Olivier Jankovec, and Eurocontrol’s Director General, Eamonn Brennan, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to enhance their co-operation in working towards aviation’s stability, safety and sustainability.

ACI Europe’s Jankovec said: “For Europe’s airports, recovering from COVID-19 and the imperative to ‘Build Back Better’ means chasing every opportunity to increase their operational efficiency and reduce their environmental footprint. Over the past years, Eurocontrol has come to play an increasingly important role in supporting not just airports but the whole aviation eco-system in that direction. The challenges we face in progressing further and the interconnected nature of aviation means enhanced collaboration and integration are key. This is precisely what this new agreement between ACI EUROPE and Eurocontrol is about.”

The MoU replaces an existing agreement from 2008 and builds on a framework of co-operation based on two pillars: efficient air transport and sustainable air transport.

The former will be achieved through increased integration between operations at and around airport platforms and air traffic management, moving to collaborative decision-making. This is integral to have operations on time and to make better use of existing capacity and unlock latent capacity. It will ultimately result in a one-on-one information exchange between the Network Operation Plan (NOP) and Airport Operation Plan (AOP) and will be delivered via ACI Europe and its airport members as well as the Eurocontrol Network Manager and the continued participation of Eurocontrol in ACI Europe’s Technical, Operations and Safety committee.

Meanwhile, sustainable air transport will be addressed through the continued development and reach of the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme and the continued rollout of Eurocontrol’s Collaborative Environmental Management (CEM), which provides process guidance through which airports are able to reduce their environmental impact in close co-operation with operational stakeholders.

Brennan emphasised that Eurocontrol is focused on supporting European aviation and is working closely with airports to deliver enhanced operational efficiency and sustainable solutions as we recover from the pandemic.

“Flights were down 44% last year across Europe to 6.2 million, whilst at the same time passengers numbers were down 59% – a loss of 1.4 billion,” he said. “Time and again our organisations have shown that working together in areas as diverse as innovation, R&D, urban air mobility and optimising performance at all levels reaps even greater benefits for aviation. We look forward to strengthening our collaboration even further for the benefit of the wider aviation network as a whole.”

Dismay at rhetoric around “ghost flights” as airports trade body reiterates support for slot thresholds

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Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has expressed dismay at the escalating industry and political rhetoric around so-called “ghost flights” and reiterated its strong support for the European Commission’s position on the thresholds for use of airport slots by airlines.

The usage threshold for the current season, Winter 21, is set at 50%. This is, as the European Commission has reiterated, a significantly lower threshold than that set under the 80/20 “use it or lose it” principle applicable in normal times. It is designed to reflect the uncertainties of a badly hit market and fragile recovery for aviation.

Crucially, and as a direct result of the ongoing uncertainties posed by the pandemic, there is also in place a specific provision for what the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines calls “justified non-use of slots” (JNUS).

JNUS effectively allows airlines to use their allocated airport slots for less than 50% of the time. It is specifically designed to address the COVID pandemic and covers not only outright travel bans but also restrictions of movement, quarantine or isolation measures that impact the viability or possibility of travel or the demand for travel on specific routes.

It is therefore the case that, with a significantly reduced slot usage threshold and a specific provision for changing circumstances such as that presented by the Omicron variant, airlines are very well protected from the current uncertainties.

As a result, it is unclear why the issue of “ghost flights” is now under discussion. Ghost flights are defined as those voluntarily operated by airlines exclusively for the purpose of retaining historic rights to their slots. Accordingly, ghost flights are not offered for sale, carry no passengers and generate no revenue for airlines. Conversely, flights offered for sale, carrying passengers and generating revenue for airlines cannot be considered as ghost flights.

Low load factors have been a reality throughout the pandemic, but the retention of vital air connectivity for both economic and societal imperatives is well documented.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, said: “A few airlines are claiming they are forced to run high volumes of empty flights in order to retain airport slot usage rights. There is absolutely no reason why this should be the reality. As was clearly stated by the European Commission, slot usage rules need to achieve two things in the current circumstances. Firstly, to protect airlines from the worst of unpredictabilities which are out of all our hands. Secondly, and crucially, to also ensure that airport capacity is still used in a pro-competitive way.

“The pandemic has hit us all hard. Balancing commercial viability alongside the need to retain essential connectivity and protect against anti-competitive consequences is a delicate task. We believe that the European Commission has got this right. Talk of ghost flights and of their environmental impacts seems to hint at a doomsday scenario which has no place in reality. Let’s stick to the vital task of recovering and rebuilding together.”

Uneven recovery pace for European airports

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Passenger traffic in Europe’s airport network decreased by -36.7% in October, compared to the same period pre-pandemic (2019) – an improvement on September’s report which showed -42.9%, according to Airports Council International (ACI) Europe.

The European airport trade body’s October air traffic report also highlighted that the lower passenger traffic losses came from airports in the EU+ area (-41.2% in October, up from -48.1% in September). Although airports in the non-EU+ area still kept outperforming in October (-17.4%), they didn’t see passenger traffic improving at the same pace when compared to September (-20.8%)

These improvements were all led by international (mostly intra-European) passenger traffic (-42.4% in October, up from -50.2% in September). Conversely, domestic passenger traffic slightly decreased during the month (-18.1%) compared to the previous one (-17.9%).

“The significant progress made on vaccinations translated into an improved performance for many airports in October,@ said Olivier Jankovec, DG of ACI Europe.

“This is good news – and the reopening of the transatlantic market in November only added to the momentum. But at the same time, this has not been a uniform trend. This autumn has shown that the patterns of our traffic recovery vary significantly from country to country and even between individual airports. Most of all, the emergence of the Omicron variant over the past weeks has shown that nothing can be taken for granted – and that our recovery path remains fragile. The reinstatement of travel bans is not supported by the WHO. We urgently need such measures to be reconsidered, and to make sure we finally learn to live with the virus,” he continued.

The uneven recovery pace of passenger traffic showed that airports in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain posted the lowest passenger traffic decreases, as they benefitted from significant leisure demand towards the end of the summer season facilitated by much eased travel regimes.

Meanwhile, airports in destinations including Finland, the Czech Republic, the UK and Sweden posted the worst performance not just within the EU+ area but across the whole of Europe, along with Israel. This largely reflected continued or reimposed travel restrictions and lockdowns.

Outside the EU+ area, the best performance came from airports in Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia and Uzbekistan.

The report also underlined that the almost exclusive reliance of small regional airports on domestic and intra-European traffic allowed them to tap into significant levels of pent-up demand, achieving lower traffic losses in October. Airports with less than 5 million passengers per annum saw passenger traffic decreasing by -22.8%, less than half the decrease of their larger counterparts.

A small number of insular airports serving popular tourism destinations managed to fully recover or even exceed their pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels: Sochi, Calvi, Kerkira, Ajaccio, Chania, Rhodes, Paphos and Funchal. However, there was overall extreme variance in the performance of smaller regional airports as airlines remained risk averse and as worsening epidemiological situations and travel restrictions took a heavy toll on most airports located in the UK and the central/ Eastern part of the EU.

Similarly, the reliance of secondary airports serving capitals or economic centres on intra-European traffic and low-cost carriers also proved to be beneficial. This was shown to be the case for Rome Ciampino compared to Rome-Fiumicino, which was hit by the closure of Alitalia. This was also the case for Paris Orly and Paris-Beauvais compared to Paris-CDG, Bergamo compared to Milan Malpensa and Charleroi compared to Brussels.

Heineken geo-targets consumers at key European airports

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With tourism slowly reopening across the globe, a new digital campaign from brewery giant, Heineken, celebrates the fun and the element of discovery that travel brings. The campaign is aimed at European holidaymakers and encourages people to travel in a socially responsible way and to follow government safety measures.

The campaign, which is named ‘The greatest stories can be read in your passport,’ is a call to action that according to Heineken mirrors the growing consumer desire to travel since the pandemic ground travel to a halt some 18 months ago. Using geo-targeting at nine key airports – Alicante, Amsterdam, Schiphol, Barcelona, Dublin, London Stansted, Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly – the campaign has been running over nine weeks through August and September and has engaged with more than 800,000 travellers. Passengers close to boarding and ready to enjoy their inflight experience were quizzed on what beverage they will consume onboard. Heineken and zero alcohol Heineken 0.0 were both featured in the campaign.

Explaining that the ultimate goal of the digital campaign is to encourage customers to travel in a socially responsible way and to play a part in keeping the world open, Kateryna Vasylchenko, Marketing Manager at Heinken Global Duty Free team said: “As a global brand we are committed to engaging with our key communities and, for travel, this means calling out all that’s great bout the discovery of travelling while reminding and encouraging us all how we can contribute to staying safe and keeping the world open.”

She added that “geo-targeting in the airports enables us to drive passenger consideration of the Heineken brand as close as possible to the moment of consumption, supporting conversion opportunities for our airline partners as they work to maximise onboard ancillary revenues as a key strand to business recovery.”

Riga Airport commits to net zero 2050 initiative

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Riga Airport in Latvia has joined the Airport Council International (ACI) Europe initiative to achieve net zero CO2 emissions in the emission sources under direct control of the airport by 2050.

In addition to facilitating the achievement of its global climate through the transformation of its business, the airport is also developing a medium-term sustainability strategy until 2030 to achieve its climate goals.

“Riga Airport continuously works on reduction of the amount of CO2 emissions. By taking several important measures, the airport has managed to reduce the amount of emissions by 32% over the period of the last five years,” said Laila Odina, Chairperson of the board.

“Riga Aiprort has been certified for Level 2 of Airport Carbon Accreditiation, ACA, and in 2020 developed its first carbon management plan for 2030-2023. The plan includes new goals to reduce emissions until 2023 and aims to improve the airport’s performance in achieving climate goals,” Odina continued.

Electricity and fuel consumption are the two main causes of emissions at the Latvian hub. Therefore, plans are afoot to focus on reducing these emissions, for example, by creating a solar farm and restoring service buildings making them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The airport also plans to certify for Level 3 of the ACA programme by aiming to reduce emissions not under its direct control, but caused by the companies and organisations working at the airport.

Commending Riga Airport for joining the ranks of airport leaders aligning their environmental objectives with global climate goals, Jost Lammers, President of ACI Europe and CEO & President at Munich Airport in Germany commented: “Europe’s airports have been leading climate action with annual reductions achieved every year for more than a decade. 172 of them have achieved climate certification by the global industry standard Airport Carbon Accreditation. However, our net zero commitment brings a new dimension to this endeavour – no offsets. Relaunching the pledge amidst the most sever crisis ever seen in modern times shows that the airport industry is aligning itself with the EU ambition to reach climate neutrality by 2050, embedded into the European Green Deal, as part of the global effort to address the Climate Emergency.”

Europe’s airport network faces ‘deepening crisis’

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Latest data released by the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe shows a deepening crisis in the sector, with air traffic in a continuing downward spiral.  The data also shows that Europe has a two-speed aviation market – with airports in the EU/ EEA/ Switzerland still sinking into the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other European airports led by those in Russia and Turkey are faring much better.

EU/ EEA/ Swiss and UK airports saw passenger traffic decreasing from -85% in January to -89% in March. This reflected the third wave of COVID-19 infections experienced by these countries with severe travel restrictions and bans as well as wide-spread domestic lockdowns. UK airports were particularly affected, along with those in countries relying exclusively on international traffic.

Meanwhile, airports in Russia and Turkey saw a marked improvement in passenger traffic during this period from -59% in January to -49% in March, with Q1 closing at -54.8%. This is due in large part to airports in Russia and to a lesser extent Turkey and Ukraine reflecting larger domestic markets combined with less severe lockdowns and travel restrictions.

“If anything, these figures show not only that the crisis has not receded, but that things have actually got worse for airports since the beginning of the year – especially for those in the EU, EEA, Switzerland and the UK,” said Olivier Jankovec, DG of ACI Europe. “Beyond rock bottom traffic and collapsed connectivity, there is no escaping the fact that the financial resilience of Europe’s airports is faltering by the day. We desperately need to get the recovery underway during the Summer and are anxious to see the vaccination roll-out finally improving the epidemiological situation.”

Looking ahead, preliminary data for April shows no significant improvement, despite the Easter holidays at the beginning of the month. In the first 10 days of April, passenger traffic at Europe’s airports was down by -80%, with airports in the EU/ EEA/ Switzerland and the UK at -87% and others at -48.7%.

Taking stock of the actual performance of passenger traffic during Q1 and of further delayed recovery prospects for international travel, ACI Europe has now released a downgraded traffic forecast for 2021 highlighting that passenger traffic at Europe’s airports is now set to decrease by -64% in 2021, down from a -52% forecast in January. And a full recovery to passenger volumes seen in 2019 has been re-forecast from 2024 to 2025.

With revenues down by €30 billion during 2020, European airports still stand to lose another €29 billion in revenue in 2021. Slow traffic recovery, combined with much increased airport competitive pressures will heavily constrain revenues.

EU Recovery Fund at odds with green airport agenda

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Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has called on the European Commission to ensure that airports can effectively benefit from the €672.5 billion EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) to finance their sustainability and digitalisation projects.

The 2014 EU Aviation State Aid Guidelines, which all airport investment under the RRF must comply with, forbid all investment aid to medium-sized and larger airports, and even set stringent limits for such aid to smaller airports. Subsequently ACI Europe points out most EU airports will not be able to access RRF financing.

With the European airport industry fully aligned with the EU’s Climate goal and close to 170 airports currently working on reducing their carbon footprint under the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, ACI is urging the Commission to revise the State Aid Guidelines underlining that these restrictions are in fact “at odds with the objectives of the EU Green Deal and Commission’s own agenda for the greening of airports – as set out by the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy adopted last December.”

Further progress towards Net Zero will require continued investment – to the tune of €25.9 billion just for the decarbonisation of terminals at the top 50 European airports alone. Although pre-COVID, airports would have financed these costs from their own funds, the pandemic has turned this assumption on its head – especially amid the limited financial support granted to airports so far by European Governments.

“You can’t just tell an industry that decarbonisation must be the way forward if we then cant’ even access RRF financing due to State aid rules,” said Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe’s Director General. “The Commission must come to terms with the material impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our industry. Airports are in a survival mode, with negative cash flow, daily operations financed through debt, and a weak revenue outlook once travel can restart. All this means many airports will simply not be able to consider investments in the coming years. What we are facing is an unprecedented airport investment crunch.”

ACI Europe also urged EU States to ensure that airport sustainability and digitalisation projects are being considered under national recovery and resilience plans. Investment in airport infrastructure during economic crisis has strongly positive multiplier effects, bringing employment and economic stability to their regions.