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Air Travel in Systemic Collapse with Nearly 7,000 Routes Lost, Says ACI Europe


European airports and tourism organisations are urging the EU to come up with more flexible state aid rules to provide assistance to airports and support air connectivity due to the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Representative associations, ACI Europe and the European Travel Commission (ETC), on Wednesday sent a letter to European Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager, which points to the tightening of travel restrictions by European States as preventing any recovery in passenger traffic and reveals yet steeper falls in air connectivity across Europe.

According to data of ACI Europe, another 700 air routes have disappeared from European airports since the end of November, bringing the total figure of lost air routes to nearing the 7,000 mark.

ACI Europe’s and ETC’s letter follows the European Commission stating that “travel will continue to pose a particular challenge” in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The Commission on Wednesday also echoed the recent ECDC advice against non-essential travel “until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved, particularly in the light of the outbreak of new variants”.

The associations highlight that without changes to the EU’s Covid-19 State aid framework, the “collapsing industries” of airports and tourism will suffer irreversible damage in a constantly deteriorating situation. ACI EUROPE and ETC are requesting from the European Commission for the possibility for airports:

– to obtain full compensation for damages due to COVID-19 and for as long as travel restrictions remain in place.
– to be compensated for unrecovered fixed costs for as long as travel restrictions remain in place – without any cap or limitation as regards total amounts.
– to benefit from Air Connectivity Restart Schemes – whereby States can provide a direct per passenger subsidy to airlines restarting air routes previously operated or launching new air routes – similar to the successful Cyprus scheme. These schemes could play an essential role in supporting the revival of the tourism sector.

Photo source: ACI World

“The Commission’s current Covid-19 State aid framework is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to airports. It involves limitations and conditionalities that are very hard to comprehend and that are simply unacceptable given the situation we are now facing – not to mention the fact that airlines have already been granted almost 15 times more financial aid than airports so far,” ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec.

Moreover, the associations also warned of further downward forecasts in air passenger traffic volumes for the months ahead.

ACI Europe has revised its 2021 passenger traffic forecast to -56 percent for the year at Europe’s airports in the baseline scenario (down from -43 percent in the previous forecast). This coincides with Eurocontrol’s revised forecast of a full recovery not foreseen until 2026.

“What we are asking for is only the support which is proportionate to the severity of the crisis and the outlook we now face. This is about making sure the aviation infrastructure does not suffer irreversible damage, which would in turn create an instant ripple effect through the tourism ecosystem and the local communities dependent upon them,” ETC Executive Director Eduardo Santander said.

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