Night flight bans and runway bottlenecks curtail Europe’s aviation growth, aid Gulf carriers

The European Union, and several of the member states, appear to be on a collision course with their aviation industry, first over the down your throat ETS regulations, which have met with global opposition and demands to let ICAO come up with a world wide solution, and also over regulatory measures and court orders, restricting flying hours at key airports and drowning expansion projects in litigation.
Contacts in several European airlines have left privately no doubt, that they would hope for nothing better than political and retaliatory measures by countries like China, Russia, India, the United States and perhaps even the Gulf states to succeed and force the European Commission to reverse their course, while officially remaining subdued if not resigned into their fate, that the almighty EU got it wrong but also got away with it so far.
At the same time are complaints about the uneven playing field vis a vis the leading Gulf airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad returning in dialogue sessions between EU based airlines, their association and their respective European governments, alleging anything from outright subsidies to undercutting of fares.
The core problem however lies elsewhere as more recent developments once again have made clear. In Germany, literally coinciding with the opening of another runway at Frankfurt, a court upheld the night flight ban from 11 pm until 5 am, i.e. 6 hours, which passenger but more important cargo airlines claim will hugely disadvantage them compared to hubs which can operate at 100 percent and not at 75 percent only. The new Berlin airport too has been subjected to such restrictions and earlier in the week did the state of North Rhine Westphalia equally impose a ban on passenger aircraft between 11 pm and 5 am for the Cologne / Bonn airport, yet in a mindboggling display of incompetent arguments let cargo airlines keep operating during those hours.
Across the channel a different but all too familiar problem hampers the growth of air traffic into Heathrow, where the current government has immediately upon taking office 2 years ago decided against the building of another runway, leaving airlines in a lurch. From a UK based source it is understood that over 85 percent of the airlines flying to Heathrow would add more frequencies if only they could get slots, but with runway capacity at the UKs most important airport now utilized by over 99 percent this will remain a wish no Santa Claus can ever deliver. The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK has in a recently published survey also said that about half of their member airlines, a total of 86 flying in and out of the UK, have stated to them that they were actively considering moving at least part of their operations out of Britain, should push come to shove and they find their financial future in jeopardy over lack of slots or their ability to expand and meet growing traffic demand.
While there are current indications, that a new policy paper on aviation may recommend that the present coalition government review their hard stand on the third runway at Heathrow, critics pointed out that whatever little progress there maybe, it would come too late and offer too limited an expansion space, saying a third runway at Heathrow should be under construction now and a fourth in the planning stages to retain the airports global position as the busiest international transit hub. That accolade though is expected to be yielded to Dubai International, which by 2013 is due to overtake Heathrow and become the busiest international transit airport, courtesy at least in part by Heathrow being unable to expand in time.
Meanwhile though have the declared enemies in the Gulf found unconditional backing by their own governments to catapult aviation infrastructure deep into the 21st century.
Dubai International Airport is looking towards the completion of a new dedicated A380 terminal exclusively used by Emirates while already embarking on the building of Terminal Four. At the same time, in aviation terms only a stone throw away, is the new mega airport Al Maktoum International at Jebel Ali nearing its opening phase for passenger operations. When complete it will be the worlds largest airport with 6 runways and a metro line connecting the two Dubai airports airside.
In neighbouring Abu Dhabi a new central terminal was approved for construction earlier this year, to turn Etihads home base into a state of the art airport while further up the Gulf Doha is gearing up towards the opening of their new mega airport, home of Qatar Airways, another airline on the prowl and ready to exploit the follies of the European Union, European governments and subsequently hamstrung airlines, which appear to have become the favourite punching ball of pseudo eco policies.
Notably has Air Berlins CEO Hartmut Mehdorn spoken out against the night flight ban into Cologne / Bonn, with the airline claiming nearly 30 flights a night will be affected as a result of the ban on night flights, seriously compromising the airports connectivity into the wider Air Berlin network. Air Berlin notably is now tied to Etihad, which now holds nearly 30 percent of the Air Berlin shares and codeshares a large number of flights into Abu Dhabi and beyond. Mehdorn was quoted as having said: This is the wrong decision, taken at the wrong time before adding making this kind of change damages business, costs jobs and prevents airports and airlines from planning with confidence for the future.
An uncertain future that is, should German airports continue to be compelled to operate only 75 percent of the available hours every day, airlines be taxed beyond acceptable levels and branded environmental polluters of the highest order, contrary to available evidence of aviations carbon footprint on a global scale.
Should Europe, the EU and individual governments not find a way forward to sensibly address such issues, and on the fast track, they will be the ones history will blame when the present seismic shift of traffic volumes to the Gulf, from the former aviation world powers America and Europe, continues beyond the point of return. Signs though are they wont change tack, not of their own free will or by recognizing their failed approach to aviation, leaving the future of aviation looking at the Gulf and the Far East including China, relegating themselves almost by default into columns of have beens. Watch this space.

2 Responses

  1. Sounds to me like EU is showing leadership in an attempt to mitigate the effects of aviation on climate change. Better if ICAO did it, but if they won’t and don’t……..

    1. Dear Tim,
      fact is that both IATA and ICAO have been working on emission reduction before it became ‘en vogue’ with the bureaucrats in Brussels. The motive, in fairness, was to initially reduce fuel burn to save money, but equally, reduced fuel burn reduces emissions too. The ICAO member states and signatories to the convention have vested such issues firmly with ICAO, which continues to work hand in hand with IATA. The EU however jumped the queue and the global opposition shows something has gone fundamentally wrong. This global problem requires a global approach, a global solution, not unilateral action. Should an aviation trade war break out, that will be entirely the EU’s doing as they had ample opportunity to transfer the negotiations to ICAO, where global targets are eyed which to the best of my knowledge go beyond the EU’s but through advanced technology and not new taxes and fees which, as we both know, will NOT be dedicated to the fight against climate change.
      Thanks for reading my blog and thanks for your comment.

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