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%.

Editor’s comment: The regional revival

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While it might not be quite the ‘great revival’ we’ve all been waiting for, Europe’s regional aviation sector has received a much needed boost this week with new life being given to old brands.

In a bid to encourage passengers living close to Norwich Airport to travel from their local hub, travel agency Fred Olsen is set to revive the Travel Norwich Airport brand after it ceased trading earlier this year. Fred Olsen plans to work with airlines and operators flying from Norwich to support holidays and travellers flying from the region.

Commenting on the new venture Richard Pace, Managing Director at Norwich Airport, said: “It’s important for our industry and our region that commercial flying returns to growth as quickly as possible and this announcement will give greater choice and a significant boost to the airport.”

Meanwhile, regional and secondary airports in Britain and western Europe will be spurred on by the news that Thyme Opco, a company affiliated to hedge fund firm Cyrus Capital, has acquired the brand and assets of Flybe. The regional carrier went bust earlier this year, however, Thyme Opco is now looking to revive Flybe. By doing so not only will it restore essential regional connectivity, but it will also create employment opportunities and contribute to the recovery of a vital part of the UK’s economy. According to Flybe’s administrator Ernst & Young, the airline could restart in early 2021.

And delivering another confidence boost for smaller hubs serving domestic and regional flights, an online poll conducted during Kiwi.com’s Virtual Interlining workshop hosted by AviaDev Europe on Wednesday 21 October found that the bulk (45%) of those surveyed believed that smaller airports with a majority of point-to-point traffic would be first to recover. By contrast 37% of delegates thought large airports would recover first.

According to Kiwi.com’s Head of Airport Partnerships, Patrick Zeuner, airports can use that point-to-point connectivity to replace lost transfer traffic by creating a virtual hub for self-connecting passengers. “It’s a win-win situation,” he said explaining that ultimately, virtual interlining can result in increased traffic and increased passenger spend, both in an airport and the destination it serves.

Whether it’s breathing new life into an old brand or collaborating with other stakeholders to create a virtual hub, it’s good to see airports and airlines continuing to fight back following the fallout from the global pandemic.

Have a great weekend,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway.