Europe’s airline industry continues to suffer. The war in Iraq and a deadly respiratory disease added to the financial woes of the aviation industry, which was already struggling from two years of economic slowdown exacerbated by the September 11, 2001, plane attacks on the United States. At a recent informal meeting with European Civil Aviation Authorities, which had been called by the EU Commission, representatives said, “the crisis affects us all.”
Here in Greece, the crisis has hit our airports especially hard. Arrivals and flights at airports continue to fall. Last year, the number of flights dropped by some 14% when compared with the year 2000 and arrivals dropped almost 7%. Much of the loss in passenger traffic comes from domestic flights, according to a recent release by the Federation of Associations of the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority.
The federation points out that the Athens Airport is too expensive, even after a fairly recent cut in airport charges, and domestic travelers in particular have turned to ferry lines where prices are much cheaper. It adds that yes the airport dropped its charges by around 20% but the government made up the loss by giving the airport almost all of the airport taxes (spatosimo) collected there. That’s from 65% initially, to a later increase to 75%, and now 87%. And here lies the real problem. The taxpayer is left shouldering the bill.
This situation is completely unfair. It’s one thing to charge the public a tax to supply needed public services, it’s another to make us pay for private company losses or potential losses. No private company or enterprise should be subsidized with taxpayers’ hard-earned money. In this, the federation is totally correct.
But the federation goes further and suggests that the Civil Aviation Authority take over the Athens airport. This would not sound erroneous a couple of decades ago when the authority was well respected for its excellent work and management skills. During the last decade or so, however, that picture has changed drastically.
We will not dwell on Olympic Airways, or the drop down in CAA safety categorization from abroad, but we do stress the loss of lives from three helicopter crashes over the past few years. The Civil Aviation Authority is fully responsible for ensuring flight safety through proper airline care and maintenance. It failed in this mission, which resulted in the loss of lives.
Before even beginning to contemplate any further endeavors, the authority and its staff, all of whom are members of the above-mentioned federation, must concentrate on bringing the authority back to its previous quality level, and then perfect it.